Men charged for illegal pigeon race gambling
OKLAHOMA CITY – Criminal gambling charges have been filed against three members of the American Pigeon Racing Union in Oklahoma City.
Karen Mae Clifton, Richard Wayne Mardis and James Orr Steele were charged Monday in Oklahoma County District Court with one count each of commercial gambling, betting or letting premises for betting on races, conspiracy to violate the Oklahoma Anti-Gambling Act and possession of a gambling device.
The charges were filed following a 15-month investigation by the national animal rights group, PETA, or People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
PETA hired undercover investigators who turned over video taken back in Nov. 2010 at the American Pigeon Racing Union’s convention, held a hotel in downtown Oklahoma City.
PETA officials said it shows people illegally placing wagers on the birds.
“Over $250,000 in illegal bets were placed on this race,” Jared Goodman said, counsel for PETA.
Information filed with the charges in district court identifies a room at the hotel used specifically for “para-mutual wagering.”
A police investigator interviewed those charged about a “pooling sheet” and several different kinds of bets referred to as a “Belgian pool,” “board pool,” and “winner take all.”
One of those charged said the “AU Organization, would keep 15 percent of all money wagered.”
“The investigation revealed that these pigeon racing clubs are nothing but unlawful gambling enterprises that offer widespread gambling on these races,” Goodman said.
Mardis is quoted in court documents as telling the investigator, “Most of us (participants) do it (race) for fun and then we go to the conventions and we do it (bet) for entertainment; just like going to the casinos over there in southwest Louisiana.”
But the investigator concludes his report by saying “… there is an established “house” running the gambling organization, thus removing any argument of a “friendly” or “individual” bet or wager.”
The American Racing Pigeon Union (AU) has this statement on their website:
“The AU is reviewing PETA’s allegations closely and is developing an appropriate response. It should be noted that pigeon racing has been a much beloved activity, across many cultures, for thousands of years. Today, pigeon hobbyists devote substantial resources to the care of their birds, as well as to community outreach efforts to engage kids in this animal-oriented activity. The American Racing Pigeon Union and its membership have been in the forefront of promoting ethical standards and practices to assure the well-being of the birds, compliance with all federal and state laws, and the advancement of this family-friendly hobby.”
Clifton’s attorney, Robert G. McCampbell, sent us this statement:
“Karen Clifton’s involvement in this case arises solely because she is Executive Director of the American Racing Pigeon Union. Her duties were to set up the ARPU Convention in 2010 including coordinating with the Mayor’s Office, arranging for hotel and convention space, obtaining pizza, arranging for table decorations and doing those types of tasks to put on a convention. It just makes no sense to file charges against her.”