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|PartyGaming up 27% as founder pleads guilty in US court
| Simon Bowers and
Anurag Dikshit, co-founder of the online gaming
group PartyGaming, saw the value of his stake in the firm jump by £42.3m
to £198m yesterday after he became the first high-profile internet
gambling tycoon to willingly face justice in a US court.
His residual holding in the group was last night
worth almost exactly the same as the $300m (£196m) he agreed to forfeit
to the US courts as he admitted offences against the wire act relating to
PartyGaming's one-time market-leading operations in the US.
the company's share price leapt 27% after PartyGaming issued a statement making
clear it too was "negotiating the final terms of a possible settlement with the
department of justice". The company added it expected any deal to involve a
payout "substantially lower" than the $300m offered up by Dikshit.
Some analysts estimated the company's
settlement could be less than $100m - comfortably within the firm's cash
resources of $149m.
PartyGaming and its founders have been targeted by
US prosecutors for years but had managed to stay beyond the grasp of the
authorities by operating from internet servers based in Gibraltar. But, like
many online gambling firms, PartyGaming was forced to close its American
operation - representing about three-quarters of its business - almost
overnight two years ago after George Bush passed laws targeting internet gaming
Dikshit retains a 28% interest in PartyGaming, which
is now primarily focused on European and Asian markets, and his representative,
Emilio Gomez, sits as a non-executive on the board. In recent years he has
taken £529m from the business in shares and dividends - more than his
three co-founders: former British Gas analyst Vikrant Bhargava, one-time
internet porn entrepreneur Ruth Parasol and her husband, Russ DeLeon.
These three are believed to have hired legal teams to monitor what is
expected to be a landmark case for the industry. Developments will also be
watched by founders and executives of the London-listed 888.com and
Sportingbet, both of which are also believed to be in discussions with the
department of justice.
Dikshit signed a cooperation agreement and US
prosecutors indicated they might submit a letter to the judge asking for
leniency at sentencing. He could face up to two years in jail. However, a
lighter sentence is thought more likely to encourage a wave of similar deals
related to past internet gaming activities in the US.
are believed have a much less conciliatory attitude to those firms that have
continued to take bets from the US since 2006, led by privately owned
PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
A source who knows Dikshit said
yesterday that the internet tycoon flew to New York after about 18 months of
negotiations with US prosecutors. He was understood to be keen to remove
uncertainty over any extradition attempts.
PartyGaming floated on the
London Stock Exchange in 2005, allowing Dikshit and his co-founders to sell 23%
of the business to UK institutional investors. As well as London's substantial
capital markets, the company was attracted to Britain by the government's
liberal approach to offshore online gambling groups.
flotation prospectus said: "The department of justice considers that companies
offering online gaming to US residents are in violation of existing US federal
laws, including the wire act."
Yesterday, PartyGaming said: "Whilst
these discussions are at an advanced stage, the terms of any settlement have
not yet been finalised and there can be no guarantee that an agreement will be