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Under Cover

Under Cover

A few months ago, I told you about how I testified in a lawsuit as an expert witness on slot machines. I just found out that other slot experts are having a lot more fun than me.

I determined this after reading an article about a trial going on in Florida involving operation of “sweepstakes cafés.” According to prosecutors, an alleged charitable organization called “Allied Veterans of the World” is actually a casino operator, offering gambling to customers and keeping the profits.

The organization, which evidently doesn’t purport to represent military veterans, only veterans of the “world” (Hey, I’m one of those!), is charged with impersonating Sheldon Adelson (that’s a felony, you know), operating dozens of “veteran charity” gaming centers that the state says are really just casinos.

The Allied Veterans of the World says the same thing as all of these sweepstakes café people: They offer public internet access and telephone services, selling cards that give customers access to computers or codes to make long-distance calls. But

really, what the cards do is give them access to a library of video slot games, on which they gamble and win or lose money. (Mostly lose. Sound familiar?)

Prosecutors say they have all sorts of evidence, but just to make sure, they employed a “slot expert” named D. Robert Sertell to verify that these sweepstakes games are really slots. According to the Florida Times-Union, “D. Robert Sertell went undercover to about 40 Allied gaming centers from Broward to Duval counties while working for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and told police that illegal internet gambling was going on at all of the establishments.”

Wait a minute. The guy was undercover? A slot expert who’s an official agent of law enforcement? All they asked me to do was go to a courtroom in Downtown Las Vegas and speak into a microphone before a judge. As I said in my subsequent account of the event in this space, there wasn’t even any courtroom drama. No one got up and screamed, “Alright! I did it!” or anything.

This guy got to go to sweepstakes centers and assume a “cover” identity—mixing with the gamblers, pretending to have fun while in reality scoping the situation for illegal gambling activity.

I wonder if he went in disguise. I know I would. I’m thinking Bermuda shorts, tropical shirt, white shoes, cheap toupee. Maybe a pair of those funny-nose glasses with the big eyebrows on top. Maybe a cheesy mustache. (No, wait—I already have that covered.)

As it turns out, Sertell is not going to testify in the case after all. An attorney of one of the 57 people arrested in the case—yes, allegedly, as many illegal casino moguls as Heinz ketchup has varieties—disputed Sertell’s credentials as an expert on gaming machines, pointing out that his work has never been peer-reviewed, his expertise has never been subjected to scrutiny, and that he “doesn’t have a college diploma,” for crying out loud.

“The state’s entire case is predicated on Bob Sertell’s claims that gambling was occurring,” argued attorney Mitch Stone. “And from what we can tell, the state never even checked his credentials before hiring him.”

Great lawyer name, by the way. Mitch Stone. It has TV movie written all over it: “Mitch Stone for the Defense!” But I digress…

Prosecutors agreed to withdraw Sertell’s name as an expert witness on slot machines, saying they had mountains of evidence without him, like the names of the “sweepstakes” games, which reportedly included “Captain Cash,” “Lucky Shamrocks,” “Smokin’ 7’s” and “Money Bunny.” (Maybe I should have put them in “Global Games” this year.)

I’m disappointed. No one even called me. Two judges and even some lawyers have already said I’m a slot-machine expert. It’s been in all the papers. I wrote a book. I periodically write ridiculous volumes of words about slot machines, as evidenced by the magazine you hold in your hands. (Or the Nook in your lap.) I even went to college, and got an actual diploma.

I never heard of Mr. Sertell, and I’ve never read anything about slot machines he wrote. And, I’ve never seen him at any of the slot-expert union meetings. (Amalgamated Brotherhood of Slot Experts. AFL/CIO/LS/MFT.)

Well, at least now they know to go with a bona fide expert for the next undercover investigation. I’m having the business cards printed up right now. “Frank Legato. Undercover Slot Expert.”

I stand ready to go “under” at a moment’s notice. But only if I get a badge and a gun. Any badge will do. Even a plastic clip-on that says “SHERIFF.”

But I’ll need a real gun. Hey, it’s Florida.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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