NFL Internet gambling and Oklahoma casinos wreck lives

People used to watch NFL games because they liked football. Now, it seems people watch the NFL exclusively to gamble.

You can’t turn on any pro football game now and not see a rash of commercials for Internet gambling sites. They show happy “football fans” who spend $35 and turn it into two million dollars. Even though you know that isn’t how it works, part of you wants to believe that a minor gamble will have a big payoff.

Oklahoma has about 117 casinos where people lose billions of dollars. With Internet gambling, who knows how much Tulsans and Oklahomans lose on a daily basis.

I don’t gamble online. I don’t gamble at casinos. I don’t visit casinos. I don’t like to waste money and gambling wastes money. The house (casino) is always the winner.

With Internet gambling, you can be sure organized crime is somehow involved.

Gambling in all forms ruins lives.

Here are some examples.

Former State Sen. Rick Brinkley, who used to be the local director of the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Oklahoma, has pleaded guilty to five federal counts of wire fraud and one count of signing a false tax return. He stole around $1,800,000 from his employer, who has filed a civil lawsuit against him. Brinkley will be sentenced November 20.

Brinkley, a former minister, is a great public speaker and had a good reputation. He was in line to be the next Republican leader in the Oklahoma Senate.

His downfall was due to gambling. I’m sure he didn’t start gambling with the idea of losing millions of dollars or that he planned to steal money from his employer.

The incredible availability of tribal and Internet gambling invariably led to his downfall.

Lorna Jean VanLandingham, a retired Tulsa police officer, pleaded guilty in March to federal charges of embezzling more than $400,000 from the state and Tulsa fraternal orders of police. She got two years and nine months in prison – a tough experience for an ex-policeman. When she gets released, she will have to pay a $15,000 fine.

Scott E. Cooper, a former Region 8 director of the Society for Professional Journalists Oklahoma Professional Chapter, admitted writing checks to himself totaling $43,220 on the organization’s account over four years in Cleveland County. He got a 10-year deferred sentence, four consecutive weekends at the county jail, community service and must repay what he embezzled.

In his testimony, Cooper, a former reporter for the Tulsa World (Community World), said his “slight gambling problem” turned into a large gambling problem. Judge Greg Dixon deliberated and imposed the following sentence:

10 year deferred probation, without a felony conviction

4 consecutive weekends in county jail

Monthly payments of $350 for 10 years

Eight additional hours of work or community service every weekend

Prohibited from visiting any casinos

Payment of all court fees and service fees related to his sentence

Miscellaneous standard probation provisions (can’t leave the state without permission, possess a firearm, consume alcohol, etc.)

According to a story by Dane E. Neuts on Nov. 15, 2014, on spjnetwork.org, Cooper blamed the state for allowing casinos during his sentencing hearing.

“It was a sad moment for SPJ. Cooper stole more than $43,000 from us. He damaged our reputation and wasted valuable time and resources that could have been better spent fulfilling our mission. He embarrassed an organization that fights for openness, transparency and accountability and damaged our credibility. While many members, volunteers and supporters stood behind us, our critics called us hypocrites,” Neuts wrote.

This was another career destroyed by gambling.

Other examples are:

Government officials

Roger Q. Melson, was the former auditor for the Commissioners of the Land Office in Oklahoma. He pleaded guilty in Oklahoma County district court to 174 counts of embezzlement after stealing $1 million from the agency. His attorney said he was a “gamblaholic.”

Tribal leaders

Roger Barnett,  a former second chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation pleaded guilty in federal court of stealing more than $200,000 in tribal funds. He said he used some for gambling.

The clergy

The Rev. Willard Jones, the former pastor of the Greater Cornerstone Baptist Church pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return. He stole nearly $1 million from a nonprofit he led and blamed gambling.

Education officials

Danny Rennels, the former executive secretary of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Athletic Association pleaded guilty to embezzlement and agreed to repay $421,500. Part of his sentence included him staying away from casinos.

Nonprofit leaders

Wesley Scott McGuiness, the former HOW foundation director, pleaded guilty in federal court for defrauding the agency of more than $1.5 million over eight years. Gambling was involved.

So, the response from the casinos and Internet gambling sites to these problems is that they are isolated. They try to say that these people would have problems no matter what.

But with the proliferation of gambling opportunities – including the Oklahoma Lottery – more and more Oklahomans will have their lives ruined by gambling.

You can bet on that.