GAMING BOSS QUITS BEFORE COURT APPEARANCE

15 September 2006

GUARDIAN UNLIMITED

Andrew Clark in New York
Friday September 15, 2006
The Guardian

The chairman of the gaming firm Sportingbet has severed ties with the company in order to pursue his fight against criminal charges of encouraging illegal online betting in America.

Peter Dicks informed Sportingbet of his resignation just minutes before a court appearance in New York yesterday at which a judge gave him permission to return temporarily to Britain. In a statement, Sportingbet said that with “great reluctance” it had accepted his decision to quit, adding: “Mr Dicks indicated that he wishes to concentrate on personal matters.”

Law enforcement officers arrested Mr Dicks when he arrived at New York’s Kennedy airport last week, citing a warrant issued in Louisiana for breaking state gaming laws.

But New York’s governor, George Pataki, has withdrawn permission for his extradition to the southern state pending “further investigations”, prompting speculation that authorities were yet to be convinced that there is compelling evidence against Mr Dicks. A further hearing has been set for September 28.

Mr Dicks’ court appearance in a down-at-heel outer suburb of Queens attracted a large pack of photographers who pursued him down the street.

Dressed in grey trousers, a turquoise tie and a smart blue blazer with a carefully folded handkerchief poking out of its breastpocket, the 64-year-old’s appearance was in stark contrast to the street-wise attire of other defendants in court facing assault and drugs charges.

Mr Dicks’ lawyer, Barry Slotnick, told the judge: “Mr Dicks is a foreign national, a respected businessman from the UK.

“Over the next two weeks, he would like the ability to travel home and see his family.”

Mr Dicks is the second prominent British online gambling boss to fall foul of the American authorities this summer. David Carruthers, the former chief executive of Betonsports, is under house arrest in St Louis, Missouri, awaiting trial on more serious charges of breaking federal racketeering laws. Some industry watchers have pointed out that the crackdown has coincided with the passage of controversial new anti-gambling legislation through Congress.

Founded in 1998, Sportingbet describes itself as the world’s leading online gambling company. It took 48 million bets last year, generating £1.5bn, and has 2.7 million registered customers. At its peak earlier this year, the company had a market value of more than £2bn. Its shares, which have halved since May, jumped 39p to 192p yesterday with the news that the US prosecution was running out of steam.

Other British gambling executives are avoiding travel to America. Louisiana’s state police say they have other warrants outstanding in connection with Mr Dicks’ case, although they have declined to disclose the names of the wanted people.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Crook, who is accused of defrauding shareholders at his former company Peregrine Systems, became the latest British businessman to be extradited to the US under a controversial treaty intended to speed up the prosecution of suspected terrorists. He is due in court today.

THIS ARTICLE CAN BE READ AT THE GUARDIAN