New details show greater depth of Chip Rogers' role in handicapping show

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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ATLANTA —

A Channel 2 Action News investigation has uncovered new details about Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers' job before politics: selling information on which gamblers could bet.

"My friends, if you want to win and you want to win big, I've got information about all of my lineups for today," Rogers said on a television show in 2000.

When the videos first surfaced last Friday, Rogers told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer he was not a sports handicapper and did not make his own picks.

"No, the company who hired me gave me a script and I would read from the script or use the script as the basic outline of what I'm supposed to say," said Rogers, adding, "I was hired to play a part on a TV show."

The show's announcer in a 1999 episode introduced Rogers saying, "Let's go to our next panelist, Will Rogers, he's been a handicapper for decades."

On the show Rogers said, "My friends, Will Rogers with you and what a weekend we have in store for everybody. Myself and my staff have analyzed all 57 games on this week's schedule."

Rogers said he would routinely fly to Las Vegas to record the television shows, and announce the predicted winners for each game, a practice gamblers commonly use to determine teams on which to bet.

"It's no different than what you see right now today on all sorts of NFL pregame shows, where people sit around and talk about who's going to win the game and by how much are they going to win," Rogers said.

But the videos show Rogers, whose moniker was 'Will the Winner,' announcing his picks as a 900-number flashed on the screen, urging viewers to call and buy additional picks.

In one introduction the announcer said, "He is just off his best NFL season ever and he is going to start off red hot this weekend for all of you callers."

The show even guaranteed 80 percent of the picks would win, or the caller would get free picks next time. Senator Rogers said he wasn't promoting gambling, even though at least one offshore casino sponsored the show.

"Handicapping and gambling are two totally different things," Rogers said.

Fleischer asked, "Why would somebody go and spend money on those picks if not to gamble with it?"

Rogers replied, "If that's what they decided to do, that's their choice." He added, "It's not my role to determine what people use the information for. I was simply there to read a script, what they did with the information had nothing to do with me."

Rogers said his contract was with a Birmingham company called OTM Sports. It's owner, Mike Lorino, spoke about the betting world a few years back, with expertise on local bookies and offshore websites.

When Fleischer called Lorino to ask about the work Rogers did for him, he didn't answer or return messages.

The next day, Rogers sent a statement on Lorino's behalf. It read, "Any agreement our company had with Rogers Broadcasting for television and voice-over duties was satisfactorily completed and came to an end many years ago."

Rogerssaid OTM created his "Will 'the winner' Rogers" persona, which is listed on the NCAA website as a sports handicapper as recently as 2005. That site reminded staff they "shall not knowingly provide information to individuals involved in organized gambling activities."

Rogers claimed he is not the same 'Will Rogers, sports handicapper' who authored an online article about sports gambling, which says in part, "for my money, Oasis Sportsbook is the place to call."

The television show Rogers was on was coincidentally sponsored by the same casino, Oasis Sportsbook.

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"I have no idea who the sponsors were," Rogers told Fleischer.

One of the 900 lines on the show listed an address on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, which matched a business called Sports Promotion, Inc., run by renowned handicapper, John Edens.

"You knew his name was Johnny DeMarco as a handicapper?" Fleischer asked Rogers.

He replied, "Yeah I've known him since I was 18 years old."

In 1992, Edens settled a civil racketeering case with AT&T, stemming from his unpaid phone bills under fake names.

In court records, he said, "Chip Rogers works for me on a part-time basis, William Rogers." A fellow employee said in a separate deposition, "I think he [Rogers] does a 900 line for the Atlanta Assassin," and that he "picks games and predictions of who is going to win."

At the time Chip Rogers was not a senator, but a recent college graduate. So Edens and his employee would have had no reason to embellish the job Rogers had. Yet both contradicted statements Rogers made to Channel 2.

A Rogers spokesman said both depositions are incorrect, that Rogers never worked for Edens or a 900 line, never made picks himself, and never used the name "Atlanta Assassin."

The Rogers-Edens connection resurfaced last year, with the transfer of a rundown motel and its debt in Gordon County.

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"You essentially gave him (Edens) the motel?" Fleischer asked Rogers.

"No, I wouldn't say that, we had a contract drawn up by an attorney," Rogers replied.

Rogers said he was just helping his longtime friend by allowing him to move into the Oglethorpe Inn and manage it. The motel has since been gutted and is facing foreclosure.

"I sold my interest to him, for a future payment at a later date," said Rogers.

Fleischer asked how much Edens paid.

"I cannot discuss any private contractual agreements," answered Rogers.

Edens had previously filed bankruptcy and last year pleaded guilty to forgery in Forsyth County. He was also arrested for theft in Fulton County, but prosecutors later dropped those charges.

"Seeing the holes in that story kind of raised some questions with me, and I saw this big gap with John Edens, the guy who the hotel was sold to and just questions raised in my mind, this is such a bad investment, why would Edens be willing to take this over?" said David Michaels, a recent Emory University graduate who spent two semesters digging into Rogers' past.

The investigative reporting student began his research for a class assignment after the financial deal involving Rogers' dilapidated motel garnered news coverage last year.

Michaels uncovered internet rumors that tied Rogers to the handicapping industry and set out to find another link to Edens. Months of interviews led him to the videos, and court records showing ties to handicapping.

"It has nothing to do with anything impacting people's lives today, you're talking about a TV show I was on 15 years ago. I wasn't in that industry, I was in the broadcasting industry," Rogers said.

"If he's promoting the behavior, I think that's still public interest," said Michaels.

Rogers said he believes this exposure is coming from his political opponents, and he trusts his constituents will look at his record over the last ten years and judge him based on how he's governed, not the job he had before he went into politics.

"At the time, I had no problem with it whatsoever. If people want to go back and watch the show right now if they have a problem with it, that's up to them," said Rogers.

To read more about what Emory University student, David Michaels, found during his investigation, visit www.atlantaunfiltered.com.

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