Betcha.com Boss Determined to Jump Back Into Betting Business
Jenny Woo here for Gambling911.com and I had the opportunity to sit down with Nick Jenkins, founder of Betcha.com. If some of you aren't familiar with the site, let me give you a brief summary. The site was launched in 2007 as a social betting network where members made wages with each other. In return, the site would take a small fee in certain wages. Betcha would hold no monies nor did they make bets with members. It was an honor-based system as bettors weren't' required to pay if they lost. However, if they didn't pay, there would be the possibility of negative feedback.
Nick Jenkins expressed to me that he isn't even a gambler. He had stated before our interview, "I haven't seen the inside of a casino in 15 years." You would think a man with a legal background shouldn't have so many legal problems. Well, that's exactly what's he's had in the past years - legal problems and he's still fighting for his rights today. Read my interview with Nick as we discuss how he got the idea for Betcha.com to the legal toll it's taken on him and his family.
JENNY: How and when did you come up with the idea for Betcha.com?
NICK: Necessity is the mother of invention, and such was the case with Betcha. I used to enjoy betting with my buddies on PGA Tour golf. The problem was there were only a few of us, and most guys were only interested during the big events (The Masters, Ryder Cup, etc.) I said to myself, "Wouldn't it be cool if there was an ‘Ebay for bets' out there? A place where other people who enjoy professional golf could bet golf every week -- and anything else for that matter?" There was no such place, so we created it.
JENNY: After having the idea for Betcha.com - How long did it take to get it up and running?
NICK: After I came up with the idea - I researched it for several months trying to poke a hole in my theory and I couldn't do it. I researched every jurisdiction in the country looking for any case anywhere that could be used against me and I couldn't find it. So that took a few months - then it took me several months to raise money and then it took us about a year to build the product. So idea to launch - a good couple of years.
JENNY: How many players did the site have in the short period of time that you were up and running?
NICK: Registered users were only in the hundreds. We were still working out the bugs. We hadn't even issued a press release. The Washington State Gambling Commission ordered us shut down faster than it takes to get the dry cleaning back.
JENNY: You were raided in 2007 and were told to shut everything down. Were they overly aggressive in their tactics?
NICK: "Overly aggressive" is an understatement -- the government's actions would bring a smile to the face of any Third World despot. The Commission raided our office, seized our property, enlisted at least one other state to bring me to heel, initiated a civil forfeiture action while our lawsuit was pending, had me extradited as a fugitive to a state I hadn't been to in thirteen years and then, after they lost, tried to change the law while their own appeal was pending. They set their eyes on my house and our office. They even implicated my wife -- she was very close to getting extradited herself. (She never so much as licked a stamp for Betcha, but why let facts stand in the way.) As a trailblazer I expected a few arrows. I didn't expect a bazooka.
JENNY: You have a legal background that obviously helped you to map out what you could do with the site. Was there anything you could have done or would have changed at the making and opening of the site in order to avoid what you're going through now?
NICK: My big mistake was in believing the law mattered. It didn't. The Commission literally told us the law didn't matter - what they say goes.
The facts didn't matter, either. I was the object of a felony fugitive arrest warrant out of Louisiana. I saw a written complaint in court stating that I fled Louisiana on or about July 23, 2007. I stood handcuffed in court as a prosecutor urged that I be jailed without bail because I'd already fled the Bayou State and was a risk to flee Washington. I hadn't been to Louisiana since 1994, thirteen years before Betcha.com existed, and I live with my wife and kids in Washington. In August 2007, Louisiana issued a press release saying I'd been arrested by Louisiana police. Never happened. So outrageous was all this that I recently optioned the rights to Betcha's story - this truth is stranger than fiction.
In terms of what I could have done differently, I could have not done Betcha at all or folded up our tent when the Commission told me (erroneously) what the law was. In a supposedly free country that prides itself on innovation and the rule of law, those weren't acceptable alternatives.
JENNY: What was the purpose and reason given to you that Governor Gregoire extradited you and two others to Louisiana?
NICK: The Commission enlisted authorities in Louisiana to help bring us to heel. Until then, no one in the Bayou State had ever accessed Betcha.com, much less bet on it. Ninety-seven minutes after the Commission acknowledged receiving notice that we had sued them for the right to operate, a single Louisiana state trooper started betting. In total he made four bets for $35 total. Our revenue: seventy cents. Based on those seventy cents, Louisiana issued felony fugitive arrest warrants for me and two Betcha employees - ironically, the two guys whose names are listed on our WhoIs profile. Apparently Louisiana law applies all over the world. (For the record, all this happened before Bobby Jindal became Louisiana's governor.)
In terms of Governor Gregoire, we pled with her office to hold off on signing our extradition papers at least until a court ruled on the merits of our claim in Washington. We told them we weren't fugitives, that there was a court case pending over the legality of the very action for which we were wanted, and that it was all over seventy cents. Didn't matter. Governor Gregoire became the first person in world history to extradite someone to Louisiana over an alleged violation of their online gambling law. (For the record: we didn't violate that law, either.)
Governor Gregoire can do whatever she wants, but I hope she doesn't get to escape this one without consequence. Experts mention her name frequently as a possible nominee for the United States Supreme Court. President Obama has said that he is looking for someone who would stand up for the little guy. If so, the governor's handling of the Betcha matter should disqualify her from consideration.
JENNY: You spoke in front of the House Commerce and Labor Committee to speak in opposition to SB 6103 not too long ago in which you were successful. You then had to deal with SB 6152 - another "Kill Betcha.com ACT". According to your blog (http://jenkinsfamilyblog.wordpress.com/category/betchacom/) - things didn't go as well. Can you tell me more on what happened and where you'll go from here?
NICK: As it turned out, things went better than I thought. We lost on party lines by a hand vote in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. When it came time for the members to put their signatures on paper to make their votes official, however, several of them refused. So like SB 6103 before it, SB 6152 died in committee. Other than the Commission, a single state senator who happens to sit on the Commission, and perhaps the Governor, there isn't much support for any bill that would kill Betcha.
JENNY: Have you gotten any support from any member in Congress?
NICK: Betcha received significant support from several members of the Washington state legislature, in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle. Those members - Rep. Tami Green, Sen. Mike Hewitt, Sen. Cheryl Pflug, and others who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation - deserve kudos for standing up for what's right.
On the federal level, I've reached out to Rep. Jim McDermott, a big proponent of legalizing online gambling who is also my representative. No word back. I know Barney Frank is pro-legalization. I'd like to reach him, too. Not because Betcha is gambling - it's not. It's just that something needs to be one about this irrational persecution of anything that resembles online gambling. I realize land-based casinos have profits to protect and that state bureaucrats do the protecting. But some things are more important than profits - the Constitution is one of them.
JENNY: How much has this cost you financially and emotionally?
NICK: Financially it's cost me more than I care to mention. The Louisiana matter alone cost me my kids' college funds twice over.
Emotionally it's been worse. I wake up every day knowing that my government all but assaulted me. The person who's supposed to serve me - our governor - served me up on a plate. That reality is extremely difficult to live with. I am a fundamentally different person than I was two years ago.
JENNY: How has your family been able to cope with all that has been going on? And is your wife supportive on what you're trying to accomplish?
NICK: My wife has been extremely supportive. She knows Betcha's been wronged, and she believes in fighting for what's right. And she agrees with me that, if Betcha's given a chance, I could make it a household name. The plans are in place, it's just a matter of having money to put gas in the tank.
JENNY: You had an interview with J. Todd of APCW where you said, "In this country we are rules of laws and not of men." How important is that one sentence to you and do you ever have to remind yourself of that after what you've dealt with?
NICK: It was that proposition on which I based Betcha.com. I researched the law and designed Betcha specifically to comply with it. I assumed that's what the law was there for - to be obeyed. I was wrong -- it's the bureaucrats who are there to be obeyed. The key moving forward will be keeping them at bay. To that end, I may have a trick or two up my sleeve.
JENNY: Have you been contacted by any other site with the possibility of teaming up to fight this?
NICK: No other site has a vested interest in Betcha's particular fight. Lots of companies, however, have a vested interest in knocking out these online gambling laws. I have the briefs ready to go, it's just a matter of the right industry executive being motivated to fight the fight. Given what happened to me, what happened to the Sportingbet executives before me in terms of their near extradition to Louisiana, and what Governor Steve Beshear is trying to do in Kentucky, I can understand anyone's reluctance to stand up to the government, especially since legalization of online gambling may be just around the corner.
JENNY: What's next? Is Betcha.com coming back? And if so, what's the predicted timeline and will you be partnering up with anyone?
NICK: The Commission has appealed its loss to the state supreme court. The court will decide within a few months whether to accept review. We are cautiously optimistic that it won't. In the meantime, I'm hoping to raise capital from investors and/or corporate partners to get things moving again. The idea is too good and the market too massive for us to throw in the towel.
We have a chance to turn an American nightmare into the American Dream. And that is what we intend to do.
JENNY: Is there anything you'd like to add for our readers to know?
NICK: I think that pretty much covered it. I'm hoping to get back into business. I have to start over from scratch, I have to raise money from scratch and given the climate now - which I think is probably going to be more friendly than it was - say two years ago - we're going to have to raise a lot more money this time. But hopefully we'll be back in business.
He later adds in our conversation....
NICK: Betcha.com had a sister site that is called boilingfrog.com (http://www.boilingfrog.com/). Do you know the allegory of the boiling frog is?
JENNY: No, I don't.
NICK: Basically, the idea is that if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water - it'll jump right out. If you stick the frog in a pot of lukewarm water and you boil it slowly - the frog will never know until it's too late and it'll boil to death. The allegory is that basically what's going on with our rights in this country now. If they're all taken away immediately - no one would know the difference, but if they were taken away slowly, slowly and slowly - before you know it - we're no longer in a free country. And that's essentially what this online gambling stuff is basically ratcheting up the temperature on the pot of water. You can't even now sit in your underwear in your own house and play poker without the government saying you can't do that - oh and by the way you should go to prison for that. It's just crazy. The ironic part of it is that I should have shut Boiling Frog down because of one of the times I got thrown in jail - I didn't mention this but one of the times I got thrown in jail they used my blog post against me. They whipped out my blog post in court saying, "Look, Jenkins is saying he's going to flee Washington." And they threw me in jail for my own blog post paying fifty thousand dollars bail. That's what I think you get when you murder somebody. Fifty thousand dollars bail for my blogging. Watch out what you blog on because they may throw you in jail for it.
The frog is boiling. There's no question about it. I suspect you are like me - a kindred spirit. If you want to do whatever you want to do - just go ahead. I mean, the government shouldn't be telling you that you can't do it. If you want to lose your dough - fine. In Betcha's case - you can't lose the rent money because as you know you have the right to opt out. It's legal.
Jenny Woo, Gambling911.com Senior International Correspondent