Emails Show Iowa College Gambling Sting Doubled as Law Enforcement Power Play

An investigator involved in a 2023 Iowa gambling sting that netted over two dozen college athletes suggested in an email to colleagues the bust would impress the “powers that be.” Further, special agent Christopher Adkins speculated the investigation might nudge state lawmakers to update gambling legislation to strengthen law enforcement’s powers.

According to The Associated Press (AP), attorneys for the athletes obtained thirty-three emails from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) through an open records request. The ask was related to a lawsuit against the state and its agencies over alleged rights violations and damaged student reputations filed on April 26.

On Thursday, attorneys Van Plumb, Matt Boles, and the Sandy Law Firm released the letters to AP.

Per AP’s reporting, Adkins—with the Division of Criminal Engagement (DCI)—appeared unmoved by any potential negative consequences for the student-athletes in his February 2023 email.

If they get suspended or get a scholarship taken away, so be it.

For the gambling industry, the revelation should offer a wake-up call.

Lawyers Allege Case Relied on Illegally-Obtained Data

In Adkins’ email to colleagues Troy Nelson and Brain Sanger, he reportedly predicted the investigation could bring public attention to their unit. Beyond that, he said, “the commissioner and even possibly the legislatures” may take note.

Further, AP reported that Sanger speculated in an earlier email that the case could end with authorities gaining access to all Iowa gambling accounts. (Iowa allows regulated retail and online sports betting and retail casinos. Plus there is horse racing, off-track betting, lottery, and Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). Online casinos in Iowa remain illegal)

That access, he said, would give the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) and DCI the power to better police the industry. The change, he wrote, would “ensure” no coaches, athletes, officials, athletic trainers, or individuals associated with college sports had wagering accounts.

According to AP, several additional DCI emails reveal an internal belief that Iowa needs to update its laws to ban proxy betting. Noting that, while regulated online sportsbooks’ user agreements already forbid wagering on another’s behalf, typically, it takes a complaint to force an investigation.

When considered together, the reported emails illustrate the investigators’ motivations, which the athletes’ lawyers argue were undertaken based on illegally obtained geolocation data.

However, in a statement issued in March, DPS Commissioner Stephan Bayens, who oversees the DCI, defended the investigation’s tactics.

As law enforcement officers, we take an oath to uphold the law and we do so without exception, even when it’s difficult. Throughout the investigation and subsequent prosecution, we continually reviewed our actions and I fully stand behind the investigation and the agents who did the work.

Notably, the lawsuit against the State, DPS, and DCI also names Bayens, Sanger, Nelson, and DCI’s Paul Feddersen and David Jobes.

A Wake-Up Call for the US Gambling Industry

As the emails demonstrate, law enforcement is prone to seek new powers whenever possible. It’s also unmotivated to relinquish those advantages later.

One need only look at the discourse around “cop cities” and calls to “defund the police” to see how law enforcement responds to threats to its reach.

So, with online gambling now commonplace in the US, we’ll likely see authorities using any scandal—manufactured or otherwise—to justify direct access to player accounts.

From a civil rights perspective, this makes it critical that gaming regulators and operators take Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance seriously. In the current climate, with several sports betting scandals in the rearview, any new high-profile failure will only fuel the enforcement fire.

If that happens, we’ll likely see an uptick in troubled investigations followed by lawsuits challenging their outcomes.

In response to Bayens, attorneys for the affected Iowa athletes released a statement that offers an argument for why that would be less than ideal.

In the response, the lawyers characterized the commissioner’s support as “deeply concerning.”

​​DPS doubling down on its support of DCI’s investigation is alarming, and its failure to disclose some of the aforementioned exculpatory information to the prosecution appears to have been concerning enough for the Story County Attorney’s Office to dismiss its pending criminal cases against our clients.

The greater tragedy herein is the enormous impact on private lives law enforcement can wield when given unfettered access to technology to search and seize your electronic geolocation data and communications without so much as reasonable cause.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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