AZGF encouraging illegal gambling

By Linda Bentley | November 5, 2008

CAVE CREEK – While attempting to bring the issue of illegal gambling to the attention of the director of a nonprofit organization formed to promote clay target shooting through Arizona Game and Fish Department’s (AGFD) Ben Avery Shooting Facility, Cave Creek resident John Hoeppner and his son Brett, a national and state champion skeet shooter, were retaliated against by the AGFD administrator in charge of the program.

There are only a dozen statutes addressing gambling under the Arizona Criminal Code, the definition of which can be found under A.R.S. § 13-3301(4), which states, gambling “means one act of risking or giving something of value for the opportunity to obtain a benefit from a game or contest of chance or skill or a future contingent event …”

Gambling is unlawful in Arizona with the exclusion of 1) Amusement gambling, 2) Social Gambling and 3) Regulated gambling if the gambling is conducted in accordance with the statutes, rules or orders governing gambling, all three of which are also defined by statute.
Raffles are a form of gambling.

However, the law allows a qualified nonprofit organization to conduct a raffle subject to certain restrictions, including: the organization must maintain its nonprofit status and be in existence continuously in this state for a five year period immediately before conducting the raffle.

Another law addresses “promotion of gambling,” citing, “Except for amusement, regulated or social gambling, a person commits promotion of gambling if he knowingly does either of the following for a benefit: 1) Conducts, organizes, manages, directs, supervises or finances gambling, or 2) Furnishes advice or assistance for the conduct, organization, management, direction, supervision or financing of gambling.

Promotion of gambling is a class 5 felony.

Quoting from the “About Us” page on Arizona Shooting Sports Education Foundation’s (AZSSEF) website, “In 2004, the AGFD Commission authorized the implementation of the Arizona Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) for Arizona youth aged nine to 19. As part of this initiative, there was an expectation that a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization would be created to help support the program financially through the sponsorship of fundraising activities and to provide donors with the availability of tax deductible contributions. Thus, the concept of the AZSSEF was born.”

AZSSEF received tax-exempt status from the IRS in February 2006.

The organization has raised funds to support SCTP and claims it has issued “grants exceeding five figures during its short history.”

It began selling raffle tickets in 2006 for a chance to win “firearms, ammunition, optics, clothing and many other items of interest to shooters.”

However the raffle was never held with the date perpetually extended out into the future.
AZSSEF advertised on its website it would be participating in the Outdoor Expo sponsored by AGFD during the weekend of March 31 and April 1, 2007 from its location on the newly rebuilt Ben Avery Clay Target Center.

When Hoeppner realized AZSSEF had encouraged his son, along with over 600 children statewide, some as young as nine and ten years old, to sell raffle tickets for a chance to win firearms as prizes, although no raffle has ever been held, he filed a formal complaint with the Arizona Attorney General last month, after learning money was not returned, requesting an investigation of state-sanctioned illegal gambling.

The illegal gambling activity along with coaching and safety issues caused Hoeppner and his son to exit the AGFD’s SCTP last month.

Hoeppner advised AZSSEF board members nearly a year ago they were in violation of Arizona’s gambling laws.

After receiving an e-mail from SCTP Ben Avery Head Coach Mike Bonner, an AZSSEF board member, pressuring kids to sell more raffle tickets, Hoeppner explained to Bonner the raffle was illegal and needed to end.

Promoting gambling, as noted above, is a class 5 felony. Encouraging children to promote gambling would appear to enter into another area of criminal statutes.

In September Hoeppner met with W. Hays Gilstrap, a North Scottsdale insurance salesman and AZSSEF Director, in Carefree.

ChavezHoeppner provided Gilstrap with a list of safety concerns, explained the illegal gambling problem and issues involving AGFD Statewide Shooting Ranges Administrator Anthony Chavez, and asked for Chavez’s removal as head of the SCTP.

According to Hoeppner, Gilstrap admitted the cash proceeds from the ongoing two-year raffle ticket sales had not been returned to the purchasers (including Hoeppner, who purchased $40 in tickets), and said he wasn’t concerned about state gambling laws.

In addition to other issues raised, Hoeppner said Chavez, while hosting a group of SCTP youth during the nationals in Rochester, N.Y., which included participants as young as twelve, approved Hooters as the appropriate venue to hold a party at taxpayers’ expense.
Chavez even went so far as to wear a sticker on his shirt proclaiming, “I love Hooters.”

Hoeppner said Gilstrap promised to take care of the problems during a meeting he would be attending later that day with top AGFD officials.

Eric Anderson, whose three children were a part of the SCTP group, contacted Gilstrap by telephone and, again, Gilstrap promised to address the problems.

Following Hoeppner’s meeting with Gilstrap on Sept. 24, not only were his concerns not addressed, Hoeppner and his son each received a letter from Chavez dated that same day to remove Brett from participation in the program and remove Hoeppner as an unpaid volunteer with the state-sponsored SCTP.

Hoeppner and Anderson both assert Gilstrap purposely misled them.

However, rather than dealing with issues brought to the ASSEF director’s attention, Hoeppner and his son ended up as targets of retaliation by Chavez.

As late as this Wednesday morning, AZSSEF’s website continues to promote raffle tickets for a chance to win firearms, ammunition, etc.

Photo: Anthony Chavez, AGFD State SCTP Director
Courtesy photo