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Rogers played larger role in pitching casino, handicappers
This article was produced collaboratively by Atlanta Unfiltered and The News Enterprise, a student reporting initiative of the Emory College Journalism Program.
By DAVID MICHAELS/The News Enterprise
July 26, 2012 — Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, while serving as a freshman legislator, regularly oversaw production of promotional mailings that advertised over-the-phone sports handicapping services and an offshore casino, former printers and a onetime associate in the handicapping industry say.
Two Atlanta-area printing companies worked closely with Rogers between 1998 and 2004 to produce the promotional booklets, called Schedules USA, according to the former owner of one printer and a former employee of both businesses. The booklets contained game schedules and extensive advertising for the online Oasis Casino & Sportsbook, based in Curacao, as well as ads for pay-per-call tip lines that offered gambling advice.
Daniel Sneed, who handled the Schedules USA account for one printer from 1998 to 2003, said he worked directly with Rogers to produce the mailers.
“He was the guy who brought me stuff and then said, ‘Here’s what we want to print, here’s the files and here’s the list where they are going,’” Sneed said.
Mark Roesler — who owned the second printer, the now-defunct Webwise Press Corp. in Decatur — said he can’t recall who paid to produce the booklets but remembers that Rogers managed the process. “Who placed the order, who dictated what happened, who told us where to send them, who directed the book and who brought the business was all Chip,” Roesler said.
Rogers did not respond to requests for comment. His campaign staff on Monday acknowledged receiving a reporter’s written questions about the publication.
Atlanta Unfiltered reported in May that during much of the 1990s, Rogers appeared in TV infomercials and on telephone hotlines, often as Will Rogers or Will the Winner, to promote paid handicapping services. (See sidebar.) Although Rogers claimed in one infomercial that he was selling picks made by “myself and my staff,” he later said he was only a performer reading a script for a client, OTM Sports, an Alabama-based handicapping service.
“I was hired to play a part on a TV show,” he told WSB-TV in May. Although Oasis Casino was an advertiser on the show, Roger said he had no idea it was a sponsor.
Rogers’ connections to OTM and Oasis, though, extended beyond the TV show. Sneed and Roesler described a six-year working relationship with Rogers producing Schedules USA and its ads for OTM’s tip lines and Oasis Casino. Sneed said he brought the account with him in 2003 when he went to work for Webwise. Roesler said the relationship continued until 2004, when Rogers had finished his second year in the House and was running for a state Senate seat.
Roesler said Rogers gave specific instructions on how the mailers were distributed. “We shipped them over to Alabama for mailing and no copies ever went into Georgia, because Chip was running” for the Senate, Roesler said. “He wanted to make sure nothing went into Georgia.”
Webwise also printed mailers for Rogers’ 2004 Senate campaign, Roesler said. Campaign disclosures show Rogers’ election committee spent more than $27,000 with Webwise between April and December 2004.
John Edens, a longtime friend and former associate of Rogers in the handicapping industry, said the Cherokee County Republican produced the mail advertisements on behalf of OTM Sports to promote its handicapping services.
Oasis’s sponsorship, Edens said, paid for the production costs of the mailer.
“The whole key to having offshore people involved in your enterprise was to get them to pay advertising bills for you and you in essence would get your advertising for free,” he said.
Edens said he used that tactic during the 1990s with another offshore sportsbook, Paradise Casino.
“It’s not some idea [Rogers] thought up on his own. That was all learned through me,” Edens said.
Schedules USA was a 30- to 40-page booklet containing schedules for several weeks of college and professional sporting events. Some listed games were accompanied by tips on a team’s performance against the point spread or handicappers’ over/under numbers for recent games.
In two 2003 editions obtained by Atlanta Unfiltered and The News Enterprise, each page featured an advertisement for Oasis Casino or a telephone number linked to one of OTM’s sports information services.
Some of OTM’s toll-free numbers advertised instant access to information on odds, trends and injuries. One such phone line was The Superphone, a service that Rogers promoted on a 2000 cable TV infomercial called The Sports Insiders.
Other phone numbers in the mailer were for pay-per-call services that directed callers straight to handicappers’ predictions for upcoming games.
The cover of the January 2003 edition includes fine print that reads, “For entertainment purposes only not intended to violate any local, state, or federal laws.”
Federal law prohibits casinos such as Oasis from accepting sports wagers over wired telecommunications systems. Prosecutors have won dozens of convictions and forfeitures against offshore sportsbooks under the U.S. Wire Act.
The return address on the promotional schedules was a mailbox in Duluth that Edens says belonged to him. Edens said he played no role in producing Schedules USA but let Rogers use the mailbox and provided him with at least some of the addresses for the booklet’s mailing list.
Edens said he had compiled those addresses over the years from calls to his 800 and 900 handicapping lines, some of which he operated under the name Johnny DeMarco.
“Sometimes I would trade for a Johnny DeMarco ad in [Rogers’] book,” Edens said. “There was a lot of trading and stuff that went on.” Other times, Edens said, Rogers bought the mailing lists from him.
OTM Sports owner Mike Lorino, in a brief telephone interview, declined to comment.
“I told you, don’t bother me anymore,” Lorino said.
David Michaels is an intern with Atlanta Unfiltered and a recent graduate of Emory University where he studied journalism and political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.