There is no shortage of drama surrounding the future of legal sports betting in Florida, and yet, the state was just subjected to one more complication. A Florida sports betting scam that bilked customers of more than $25 million in total was recently shut down, and the discussion since has focused on what this could mean for the future of legal gambling inside the Sunshine State.
Those who have been following Florida's sports betting problems understand this is no joke. It already looks like sports betting in Florida won't be legalized until 2025. Handling an additional complication like this one only stands to tack on more time to that delay.
Perhaps you're wondering if a sports betting scam would actually prevent Florida from giving the green light to gambling down the line. And it's a fair inquiry. We're here to dive into the answer. But first, let's try to understand what this latest Florida sports betting scam was all about.
Florida Sports Betting Scam Costs Victims $25-Million Plus
On the final Wednesday in May, United States authorities arrested a man, Cory Zeidman, for running a sports betting shop that claimed to know the outcomes of allegedly fixed games, according to Justice.gov. Zeidman was subsequently indicted on multiple charges, including money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud for running a company that defrauded customers for more than a decade, between 2004 and 2020.
Per the indictment documents, Zeidman created the Phoenix Organization, along with at least one partner. During their time in business, the company placed paid radio advertisements across the United States in which they promoted their sports betting acumen. The Phoenix Organization claimed to use a "sophisticated white-collar approach to gathering sports information" that rendered sports betting an investment or sure thing rather than a gamble or game of chance.
However, once customers contacted the provided phone number, they were instead informed that select upcoming sporting competitions were fixed, and that the Phoenix Organization actually knew the outcome of each individual game, match or event. The methods by which they claimed to obtain this information varied by situation. Zeidman and Co. said they used everything from "Team doctors told us" to "We have an in with TV executives who informed us of the fix."
In order to receive this inside information, callers needed to fork over a fee. Little did they know, though, they were merely paying for absolute bunk. The betting information provided was either absolutely false or could be found via a simple internet search. Regardless of what advice bettors received, they weren't actually given a leg up.
Though it isn't quite clear just how much the Phoenix Organization stole from prospective customers, Zeidman is being forced to forfeit "at least $25 million, another $750,000 from bank accounts and three properties." We couldn't find on the indictment how much people were being charged per transaction, leading us to believe the amount shifted depending on the customer. But it's been said that people lost their life savings as part of this scam, thereby suggesting the false inside information didn't come cheap.
Sports Betting Scam Confirms Florida's Worst Fears
By now, most should know that legal sports betting in Florida is on hold because of a dispute between the state and the Seminole tribe, which was granted exclusive rights to collect on-site sports bets before a judge ruled this agreement constituted an unfair monopoly and appealed the gaming compact. But as the two sides continue lobbying against one another, with seemingly no end in sight, it has given time for others in power to reflect on the potential downside of sports betting.
Among the states that have yet to legalize gambling, many local governments believe it is the equivalent of uncorking Pandora's Box. You can't undo it, and once you open the floodgates, it leaves your state vulnerable to unseemly characters operating in bad faith.
More scams like this one in Florida could feasibly pop up if sports betting is legalized, if only because people will be more open to betting on sports in the first place. This has always been a major concern for lawmakers. It just typically gets overlooked because of the potential for state's to profit off lucrative tax revenues.
In the case of Florida, though, it won't be so easy to downplay. Since legal sports betting is already in constant litigation, this could open the door further for opponents of sports gambling to try deterring efforts to legalize it.
Should Florida Be Worried About Sports Betting Scams?
The Sunshine State isn't going to delay legal sports betting any longer than it already might because of this latest scam or others that might soon arise. This may sound callous. It's not meant to be. But it's also the truth.
If anything, this $25 million scam merely proves that Florida residents were finding a way to place illegal bets that didn't have state approval. And while sports betting policy is impossible to perfectly police, regardless of whether it's legal or illegal, going the legal route actually acts as a form of prevention.
Rather than seeking out unlicensed bookies, Floridians would be able to place bets with thoroughly reviewed online sportsbooks that are either licensed by the state or have a more established history. They wouldn't be as inclined to test out shady services that require large wire transfers or that they've never heard of. And if they do find themselves in such a situation, a quick Google search is all they'll need to see which sports betting services are licensed or at least recognized by the state.
So, when you really think about it, this Florida sports betting scam isn't a reason for the state to de-prioritize the future legalization of sports betting. It's cause to green light gambling licenses sooner.
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