By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
December 30, 2013
More than $230,000 donated to Tar Heel political candidates in 2012 came from a bank account flush with criminal gambling profits, according to authorities in Oklahoma, where $3.5 million has been seized during an investigation of International Internet Technologies owner Chase Burns.
“There are severe and sustained consequences for breaking the law in Oklahoma, and I hope this sends a message to anyone considering profiting from illegal gambling,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement released in November, in which he thanked the State of Florida and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for their help.
“We were able to secure criminal and civil charges for these individuals and shut down their illegal gaming and money laundering activities,” he said.
Burns and his wife, Kristin, were arrested in March following a multi-year probe by Pruitt’s office, the OSBI, the IRS, the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the Seminole County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They were prosecuted criminally in Florida where Burns awaits sentencing on two counts of assisting in the operation of a lottery following a plea deal in which more than 200 felony charges ranging from racketeering to money laundering were dropped. Florida authorities say a charity, Allied Veterans, was being used as a front to collect some $300 million from sweepstakes cafes. While the game operators claimed sweeps players were helping homeless vets, in truth less than one percent of the proceeds benefited the organization.
For years Burns acted as a mouthpiece for the sweepstakes industry in North Carolina, where ITT furnished software and licensed more than 100 locations. The company pulled out of the state this past spring after Burns was charged, and court rulings made it clear that the state’s ban on video gambling would withstand legal challenges.
Even now, the N.C. Board of Elections is investigating the campaign contributions made by Burns and other sweepstakes promoters to determine whether they violated a rule against corporate contributions.
When the Florida scandal broke, many elected officials of both parties, including Gov. Pat McCrory, Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) passed on to charities the campaign donations they had received from Burns, the largest individual donor to North Carolina candidates in the 2012 election cycle.
“Politicians need to understand that this industry is radioactive — touch it and you’re likely to get burned,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “It’s crooked through and through.”
Despite the Legislature’s 2006 ban of video poker and several laws passed since to broaden its parameters to include video sweepstakes, promoters of the predatory games continue to try to sidestep the law and sway the General Assembly to reverse course and embrace the industry as a source of tax revenue.
“Proponents for legalization of sweepstakes are crying out that they want regulation, but that’s like saying we can regulate cancer. You don’t control it; it ultimately owns you in some way,” Dr. Creech added. “To see this issue in any other light is but an illusion.”