Vets Say Billionaire Is Going Back on His Word

Vegas expert offers to mediate $1M bet between Pickens and Swift boat vets.

September 19, 2008, 6:48 AM

June 27, 2008 — -- A Vegas gambling expert who says it is "sacrilegious" not to make good on a bet, is offering to mediate a $1 million disagreement between Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens' and Swift boat veterans who claim they won Pickens' challenge to disprove political claims he made in 2004.

"I'm thinking about recruiting a star-studded panel from the gambling world to judge this affair, or maybe just do it myself," said oddsmaker Ben Eckstein, who added that he was planning to contact both parties and propose the idea.

Eckstein offered his expertise after former crew mates of Sen. John Kerry claimed they proved that Kerry hadn't lied about his three purple hearts and other medals he won during the Vietnam War.

Pickens, who financed an anti-Kerry ad campaign during the last presidential election, offered $1 million to anyone who could prove the attacks on Kerry's history were inaccurate. He claims, however, that the Swift boat vets have misread his challenge.

"It could be a ton of fun," said Eckstein. "The panel would decide if [Pickens] actually welched on the bet and, if so, award appropriate damages aside from money – like making [Pickens] turn one of his wind turbines by hand."

Eckstein says there is are ethics involved in issuing challenges and that failing to deliver on a bet is "sacrilegious."

"In the world of betting and gambling, your word is your bond," said Eckstein, president of America's Line, a sports and entertainment oddsmaking business. "Whether it's a $7 bet or a $500,000 bet, once it's made and once you shake on it, it should be done."

Neither Pickens nor the Swift boat veterans have responded yet to Eckstein's offer.

Del Sandusky, a Swift boat veteran who served alongside Kerry in Vietnam, is the latest to claim he's been stiffed by Pickens' $1 million challenge to disprove allegations that Kerry lied about his wartime experiences.

"I really hoped we could've taken him at his word, but now he's become 'T. Boone Chicken' and he's running away from his own bet," Sandusky told

Pickens' wager originated when he offered $1 million to anyone who could find falsities in the claims made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group he had financially supported during the 2004 presidential election. He issued the challenge during a November 2007 dinner for the American Spectator magazine.

The group had organized a media campaign -- books, television ads and speaking engagements -- to refute presidential hopeful John Kerry's claims about his service in the Vietnam War. Having claimed that Kerry lied about his service in exchange for medals of honor, the group's message has since been considered by some observers a contributing factor to the Democratic nominee's lost bid for the White House.

But whether Pickens had offered the monetary reward for falsities found in the campaign as a whole or just in the televised ads came into question when Kerry himself answered the call, offering to meet Pickens and provide him with information that Kerry said would debunk the allegations.

Pickens refused to meet with the Massachusetts senator because, as his spokesperson Jay Rosser told, "none of the material Kerry or the crewmen provided was germane to the ads."

In his response to Kerry, Pickens requested a copy of the senator's Vietnam journal and military records.

"Boone can't be accountable for everything the [Swift Boat Veterans for Truth] say," Rosser said. "[He can only be responsible] for the ads that he helped fund."

Rosser added that while Boone did contribute money toward the 527 ads that ran during the campaign, he did not have anything to do with the book tour and media appearances.

"Nobody has stepped forward with any factual mistakes in those ads," Rosser added.

Pickens declined to speak directly to, Rosser said.

But when Pickens was sent a letter and photocopies of evidence supporting Kerry's military record by veterans last week, it was yet again not enough to seal the deal.

"[Pickens] sent us a brief letter back saying the same thing [that he said to Kerry]," Sanudsky told

In the June 25 letter sent from Pickens to Sanudsky, Pickens thanks the veterans for their research but still denies any obligation to pay them the $1 million.

"Unfortunately, key aspects of my offer of $1 million have not been accurately reported," Pickens wrote in the letter obtained by "In reviewing your material, none of the information you provide speaks specifically to the issues contained in the ads, and, as a result, does not qualify for the $1 million."

Pickens' spokesman Rosser said, "He's not going back on the bet."

But the veterans seem to think he is -- and told that Pickens just doesn't want to live up to his end of the bargain.

"We're disappointed because he's ducking out," Sanudsky said. "He's dodging the bullet because we've got the ammunition."

"I guess now we know the T in T. Boone doesn't stand for 'truth,'" added Sanudsky. "His response is slicker than an oil spill."

"We have 11 different falsehoods that the [Swift Boat Veterans for Truth] came out with in 2004. We have documents, videos, editorials and depositions not just by my boat crew but other eyewitnesses who were involved in the operations."

Sanudsky added that while his group has come up with "everything Pickens asked Kerry for in November," it has all been for nothing.

Betting expert Eckstein told that if Pickens is found to be going back on his word, he would be guilty of committing "the lowest act on the gambling totem pole."

"This sort of thing should never happen," Eckstein said of gamblers who go back on their bets. "And if someone does, they should be very, very upset -- especially if the other party gave their word."

True to Eckstein's predictions, Sanudsky and the rest of the veterans supporting Kerry are very upset -- and vow to keep trying to force Pickens to cough up the money.

"Where we come from, your word is your bond," Sanudsky said. "Mr. Pickens hasn't heard the last from us.

"We won't rest until he admits the truth that he bankrolled a big lie."