By Martin Owens
Arresting the Wrong Ones
A Tale of two British Businessmen
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - "I want my life back". That was Tony Hayward, the British CEO of BP, demonstrating his emotional commitment on tape, six weeks into the environmental catastrophe that his company caused. The outfit formerly known as British Petroleum is spending $50 million on feel-good TV advertisements and infomercials, to make sure we all understand the depth of their empathy.
There is, after all, a lot to empathize with. Eleven innocent men lost their lives when a BP-chartered oil platform exploded off Louisiana six weeks ago, in what increasingly looks like a case of raw negligence. Estimates of the material damages are mounting by the hour - some as high as $37 billion, and we're not done yet. No one actually knows how much oil was (and is) being released into the Gulf of Mexico; some scientists predict plumes of pollution may actually ride ocean currents all the way to Europe. In the meantime, mainstay industries of the Gulf Coast - tourism, fishing, and yes, oil drilling, too - have been crippled if not entirely wiped out. Hundreds of thousands of people across four states are facing financial ruin, their livelihoods destroyed.
Meanwhile, I could point out another British executive who would like his life back, too. His name is David Carruthers, and he is in Federal prison, sentenced to three years. If he is in jail where Mr. Hayward is not, then logically he must've done something worse. Did he kill more people? Did he poison more marshes and beaches and waterways? Bring even more billion-dollar industries to their knees across more of the USA?
Well, no, actually. Mr. Carruthers' offense was the heinous transgression of "racketeering conspiracy"- translated into English, he was the CEO of a company that offered Internet gambling. He forced no one to play, as opposed to BP, which has compelled millions of people to feel the effects of its action, willing or not. Carruthers harmed no one; the health toll of BP's Gulf oil spill has yet to be even realistically estimated.. Carruthers took his company, BetOnSports, public in a $40 million IPO in London, after instilling new standards of efficiency professionalism and legal compliance in what had been an operation with a chancy rep. BP, on the other hand, has been going the other way- adding and adding its record as a frequent and flagrant violator of health, safety and operations rules around the world.
Especially after the Louisiana disaster, there's been all sorts of talk about responsible corporate behavior. Well, Mr. Carruthers was at the forefront of the movement to legalize and license Internet Gaming in the USA- the cause that is now being taken up with interest in State houses and Congress alike. BP, on the other hand, consistently lobbied for reduction of oversight and regulation. In point of solemn fact, it seems that BP executives were being airlifted on to the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform to celebrate its safety record - the very day the whole thing went kaboom.
One could argue that the comparison is somewhat overdrawn. Petroleum exploration and production are vital to our way of life, after all, whereas the world would still turn at the same speed if all the Internet gaming sites were shut down tomorrow. True enough, in a limited, tactical sense. But there is ( or ought to be) a principle at work here.
The whole justification for using government power to regulate, suppress, or even outright forbid anything, is supposed to be protection of the citizens. And the punishment and blame ought to fit the offense. Well, could ten thousand casinos together have inflicted one-tenth of the damage from the Gulf Oil spill? But BP is on track to distribute a $10 billion dollar dividend this quarter. How about the losses from the financial meltdown before that? But the last two Secretaries of the Treasury have been executives from Goldman Sachs. No, it was David Carruthers who was brought up on a secret indictment, bushwhacked in the airport and dragged to St Louis to face scarcely intelligible charges of "conspiracy" for doing something that was perfectly legal at the times and places he did it. Finally, the expense and isolation, the unrelenting threats and pressure wore him down. He copped a plea to get it over with. Please excuse me, but I doubt that the execs from BP or Wall Street will face any such treatment.
Of course, it's an old story. Gambling is a perennial scapegoat and boogeyman in American politics, and smiting the evildoers is a great distraction from the events which are not going so well. But since the wheel has turned full circle, and the USA is considering legalizing Internet gambling at the state level, the national level, and eventually both, isn't it time to let Carruthers go? He has more than paid any debt he might have owed, and the never-ending farce is entering a new chapter now.
Mr. Owens is a California attorney specializing in the law of Internet and interactive gaming since 1998. Co-author of INTERNET GAMING LAW with Professor Nelson Rose,( Mary Ann Liebert Publishers , 2nd ed 2009) ; Associate Editor , Gaming Law Review & Economics; Contributing Editor, TSN. Com
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