07/25/2006 12:00AM

Exec's choice: Coffee, tea, or jail


TUCSON, Ariz. - Dallas/Fort Worth, the sprawling airport known - affectionately or otherwise - to millions of travelers as DFW, is the crossroads of the American Southwest.

It is remembered by those who use it regularly for its long, crowded concourses without moving sidewalks, and for "Tram" signs that lead down to spacious loading platforms for the shuttles, arriving and departing every two minutes, that connect its four terminals.

It will be remembered by a Scottish gambling executive named David Carruthers, the chief executive officer of the online betting giant BetOnSports.com, as the gateway to hell.

Carruthers and his wife, Carol, left London a week and a half ago for BetOnSports headquarters and their second home in Costa Rica. To get there they had to stop at DFW. Waiting for them was another well-known trio of initials: FBI.

While awaiting his flight, Carruthers was arrested, jailed, and charged with 22 crimes against the United States government. The charges filled a 26-page indictment and included racketeering, conspiracy, and fraud.

Mrs. Carruthers was allowed to fly on to Costa Rica, but David Carruthers, known in England as a stylish dresser, wound up in an orange jumpsuit with cuffs - handcuffs and leg cuffs.

Carruthers was a veteran of more than 20 years with Ladbrokes, England's big bookmaker, when he was hired away by Gary Kaplan, aka Greg Champion, aka G. Mr. Kaplan started his online bookmaking in New York, and when things got uncomfortably hot there he headed south, to Costa Rica. A fugitive from justice, he was indicted on the same 22 counts as Carruthers, and so was his BetOnSports operation, but Kaplan and his reportedly Uzi-carrying bodyguards don't use DFW. They stay secure in Costa Rica, beyond the reach of American law.

Carruthers was hired by Kaplan to do three things: bring his online knowledge to BetOnSports, bring professional management skills to it (he holds a Master's degree in business administration), and give the operation a touch of respectability.

Well-read and well-spoken, with a strong personality, Carruthers has done a good job of fulfilling his mission with shuttle diplomacy. Besides spending time in Costa Rica, he visited Washington and lobbied members of Congress on legalizing Internet betting. He went on television talk shows. He wrote newspaper columns, and in one of them this year he said, with clarity and accuracy, "Politicians who seek to prohibit online wagering in order to prevent underage gambling, excessive gambling, and corruption could address these goals more effectively through regulation."

The House of Representatives ignored that, and voted to ban Internet gambling. Horse racing was exempted, because it already is regulated by the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978, while poker and dog racing and other forms of gambling were not.

Now the Internet prohibition bill goes to the Senate, perhaps before the Aug. 4 recess. One staffer of Senate majority leader Bill Frist said it won't, but Frist's chief of staff, Eric Ueland, says Frist will make a strong effort to see that it is.

For horse racing, the stakes are high.

If the Senate does not consider the bill now, it is likely to do so later, perhaps not before the November elections, which will be close at hand when Congress resumes after its fall break.

If the Senate considers it and kills it, the status quo remains.

The critical issue is if the Senate considers the measure and passes it, but strips horse racing's House exemption from the bill. This does not seem likely, but unlikely things have happened before in the halls of Congress.

We will not have long to wait and see.

The same may not be true for David Carruthers.

He could be free and on his way to Costa Rica before you read this.

At the moment he is being looked after by federal marshals, somewhere between Dallas/Fort Worth, en route to St. Louis, where his fate will be decided in a federal court. That's where FBI agents gathered evidence in a sting operation. Dallas to St. Louis is just 660 miles, but federal guests making the trip sometimes wind up in a federal bed and breakfast in Oklahoma. It has taken some travelers up to a month to make the trip.

If things go badly for Carruthers, his wife could have a long wait in Costa Rica. The Feds would like to impress the Senate and make an example of Carruthers.

If the U.S. court agrees, the next flight to Costa Rica for David Carruthers could be delayed, as long as 20 years.