But the Course Manager/Director of Golf at Tarpon Springs (Fla.) Golf Course still resigned because of the pressure and publicity surrounding the criminal investigation, which began after local police and city officials were told by a former employee that management at the municipal course was sanctioning side wagers and raffles among league players.
Prosecutors in Tarpon Springs, Fla. announced on March 14 that they will not press charges stemming from their investigation of illegal gambling at Tarpon Springs Golf Course, because they could not prove that any crimes were committed at the municipal course.
The investigation began after a former employee at Tarpon Springs contacted city officials about side wagers being made by league players at the course. After local police turned the case over to the Florida state attorney’s office, the story went viral and generated international scorn over how a universal and innocuous practice at golf courses was being viewed as potentially illegal (http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2014/03/07/probe-course-gambling-puts-tarpon-springs-gc-viral-spotlight/).
When the Tampa Bay Times informed Tarpon Springs GC’s Course Manager/Director of Golf, Chuck Winship, that the investigation was being dropped, Winship replied, “Well, that takes a load off. All along, I figured that might be the case.”
But the Times also reported that Winship, 65, resigned from his job this week because of the pressure and publicity surrounding the criminal investigation. “It became a pretty troublesome time. I wasn’t sleeping,” he said.
The Times’ followup article also revealed that Tarpon Springs police and city officials said there was more to the story than originally reported, explaining that they had an obligation to investigate a complaint that a city employee at a city-owned golf course was violating state laws by directly overseeing gambling and by raffling off a set of golf clubs.
“We didn’t look into individual players or somebody making a $2 wager on the back nine,” Tarpon Springs police Capt. Jeffrey Young told the Times. “The focus of the investigation was on city employees possibly being involved in illegal gambling activities.”
Winship had previously told the Times that about 14 leagues play at the course weekly, with some leagues involving as many as 30 to 40 players. League golfers were typically paying the normal green fees and cart fees, then putting in extra money to be divided at the end of the round. Golfers might get a portion of the pot built by the extra funds for lowest round, closest to the pin or lowest score on a hole.
“This happens everyplace,” Winship said of the leagues’ side wagers. “What happened to me could happen to any pro or manager anyplace.”
Winship came under investigation, the Times reported, after a fired employee linked him directly to the wagering. Ron Moxom, former supervisor of the course’s golf shop, sent Winship an e-mail saying, “Each Saturday morning you direct a group of golfers that come only to gamble.”
Moxom also raised questions about the golf course raffling off a set of golf clubs in the pro shop. He forwarded the e-mail to the city’s administrators and elected leaders, prompting the investigation.
Police determined that, under Florida law, the golf course isn’t allowed to hold such a raffle because it’s not a charity.
Police also found, the Times reported, that Winship was leading one league, the “Saturday Quota League,” and was keeping track of its wagers, but they uncovered no evidence that he was profiting from it. Winship said the league’s members had asked him to take over after the previous leader was accused of skimming money.
“The investigation showed there was some bad judgment going on, but no real criminal intent,” said Tarpon Springs City Manager Mark LeCouris. “Until you investigate, you don’t know what the heck is going on there.”
Officers investigated the potential violation of two state statutes: keeping a gambling house and game promotion in connection with the sale of consumer products or services. They forwarded the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, which decided not to pursue the charges.
“We would need to prove that a golf course met the legal requirement of being a gambling establishment,” said Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba. “We would have to prove that the management of the clubhouse knew that this was occurring. But it would have to be more than just allowing it. They would have to be engaged in the promotion of it.”
In its previous report on the situation, the Times reported that league play at Tarpon Springs GC stopped for two weeks after Winship was informed of the investigation, and he hired an attorney to defend himself personally against a possible felony charge. Leagues at the course were then given permission to resume play under stipulations laid out to Winship in a letter sent to him on February 21 by LeCouris.
The league play would be permitted, LeCouris’ letter said, only if 1) no golf course employees or volunteers participated in league administration or operation, and 2) “for all participants, per state statutes, entry fees cannot specifically make up the prizes or purses contested for.”
That meant, the Times explained, that prizes or purses must be predetermined before play, and not by how much money ends up in a pot through collections on the side.
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