|Betonsports.com, the Costa Rica-based sports book, says it intends to spend more than $20 million in a nationwide media blitz that so far has included two huge billboards in New York City - one near the Long Island Expressway in Queens and the other outside the Lincoln Tunnel. |
Advertisements for its online betting service - BetonSports.com - also have appeared on New York taxis, on radio and cable TV spots and in more than 90 magazines and newspapers.
The ads are causing controversy, as online sports betting is illegal in New York – although BetonSports.com is licenced in Costa Rica, outside US jurisdiction
New Jersey and New York state prosecutors have been successful in stopping US credit card companies (and the online payment service, PayPal) from transacting US residents’ wagers with the offshore sites, but legal experts say that current state laws regarding advertising offshore betting sites are ambiguous.
'It's against state law to facilitate a crime and Internet gambling is against the law,' said Ken Dreifach, chief of the state attorney general's Internet division.
'What we don't know is whether the courts would consider those who carry advertisements of illegal operations as facilitators,' Dreifach said.
Dreifach said his office had not received any complaints against BetonSports, whose Web site is registered to 'Moishe' in Costa Rica.
Dreifach said that the ad campaign gives the impression that the service is legal. 'We would hope that companies would know not to accept ads that promote illegal activity,' Dreifach said.
BetonSports CEO David Carruthers said the firm employs about 1,500 people in Costa Rica, Antigua and England. He insisted the business was legal and said New York authorities could not block his advertising campaign.
'I'm licensed where I am and I see nothing wrong with it,' said Carruthers, who expects BetonSports to pull in $2 billion this year.
'There is still freedom of speech in America.'
Carruthers accused state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office of trying to squash competition to protect its own state lottery and Off-Track Betting operations, and to help the Indian casinos it agreed to license.
Two billboard ads in NYC were taken down last week, but only because the advertising contract expired.
BetonSports also posted ads last month on around 250 New York City cabs. The taxi ads expired Sept. 19, but at least 16 cabs were still carrying them last week.
On Friday, Taxi and Limousine commissioner Matthew Daus ordered the remaining ads to be removed.
'We are not allowed to approve ads beforehand, but we do have the authority to pull them if they are offensive to public morals,' Daus said.
The taxi ads were placed by Ad space brokers Clear Channel. 'It was never even contemplated that this was anything but on the up and up,' said company spokesman Tim Stauning.