Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Slaying Shakes Casino Ship Unity Industry Fears Backlash in Wake of Boulis' Death

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Slaying Shakes Casino Ship Unity Industry Fears Backlash in Wake of Boulis' Death

Article excerpt

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Florida's maritime gambling industry, once united against attacks from the outside, has been rocked by the killing of SunCruz Casino magnate Gus Boulis and drained by the vicious infighting that preceded -- and continues after -- his death.

Representatives of the "cruise-to-nowhere" vessels, which carry 4.3 million passengers each year and employ more than 4,000 people, are accustomed to whispers about criminal influence in their unregulated gaming business. Now, they say, their enemies may find confirmation of their fears in the slaying of Boulis, who was gunned down as he drove home from work last week in Fort Lauderdale. No arrests have been made, nor have police indicated that his death was related to his role in SunCruz.

Boulis was buried Monday in his Greek hometown of Kavala.

"What I'm concerned about is the perception that the industry is corrupt," said Lester Bullock, president of the Day Cruise Association, which has been the strong voice of the industry against efforts in the Attorney General's Office and Legislature to do away with the gambling boats.

That perception has been a driving force behind Attorney General Bob Butterworth's relentless prosecution of the boats, inspiring authorities to raid Boulis' SunCruz VI in Hollywood in December 1998 and to pursue civil lawsuits against companies throughout the state.

"Anything that operates at that level, with a lot of cash, and a lot of fast money, always brings in a [criminal] element," said Myron Burnstein, special counsel to Butterworth, who has led the legal assault. "That's part of our concern."

Indeed, the shooting sent shivers through North Beach residents of Hollywood, which has been fighting to remove the SunCruz VI from its nearby berth for more than three years.

"Our neighborhood is petrified that there may be a shootout of some kind," said Steve Welsch, president of the North Beach Neighborhood Association. "It's indicative of the industry."

But company officials say the characterization is bogus, and point to the federal prosecution of Boulis. After spending at least $1 million to investigate him, prosecutors eventually forced him to sell his business. But they did so based on a technical violation of the obscure 1916 U.S. Shipping Act.

Bullock said the death of Boulis -- whose vessels once made up more than half of the association's members -- might encourage state legislators to revive an aborted attempt in last year's session to outlaw cruises to nowhere, in which Florida boats travel 3 miles into international waters to conduct casino-style gambling.

"It's not fair to assume we're the bad guys," Bullock said. State Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale, said federal law does not allow the Legislature to regulate the industry because the gambling takes place in international waters. …

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