The $300 million "settlement" and Wire Act guilty plea by Party Gaming co-founder Anurag Dikshit earlier this (December) month was discussed in an interesting article in the The Times over the holiday weekend, which suggested that his unilateral and independent move to clean the slate with the US Department of Justice may not have gone down well with his fellow founders.
"Dikshit’s decision has created a rift with his former Party Gaming colleagues, in particular the three other entrepreneurs who helped launch what was once the world’s biggest internet poker service — Ruth Parasol, her husband, Russell De Leon, and their marketing guru, Vikrant Bhargava," the article reports. "It will also have troubled executives at other big online gaming companies, such as 888 Holdings. And it could have grave implications for the entire online gambling industry, estimated to be worth more than $12 billion a year."
Describing the former software engineer's guilty plea as a significant coup for the DoJ, The Times recaps on DoJ actions against online gambling executives like David Carruthers, who has been under house arrest in the US for over two years with no trial date yet in sight.
According to the piece, Dikshit's motivation was the determination of the American authorities to pursue those involved in online gambling, and it quotes close associates as saying that for him, it was simply a means of bringing the affair to a personal end, even if it cost $300 million.
"It is money he can afford to lose, argue his friends. He has already made more than GBP500 million from the sale of Party Gaming shares, and retains a 27.7 percent stake in the business, worth GBP 213 million."
The Times quotes an unidentified online gambling executive as saying: “It’s a dangerous precedent. If he’s admitting wrong, I don’t like it.”
Dikshit’s decision to break ranks has provoked anger among former colleagues, the article claims. "According to one person who knows them well, the other three founders of Party Gaming are upset because it leaves them feeling “guilty by association. They believe they have done nothing wrong, maintaining that until the US explicitly banned online gaming in October 2006, offering poker online to American citizens was not illegal," it reports.
His former colleagues think that Dikshit has, in poker parlance, folded, the report suggests. "They believe that with the change in administration in America next month, pursuing those involved in online gambling will fall off the agenda. Why, they argue, pay huge sums to settle these disputes if the authorities will be looking elsewhere in just a few weeks?
"According to executives close to them, the Party Gaming entrepreneurs are convinced that the US will regulate the entire industry within the next two years, not least for the valuable revenue it will generate in taxes."
Dikshit had apparently been negotiating for a resolution since summer 2006, and in that time has travelled to America only once — for this month’s court appearance. An American law firm led the negotiations with the US authorities on his behalf. He has had little contact with his former colleagues, described by friends as "drifiting apart" from them, although some said that it was on the advice of his legal representatives.
Party Gaming has already issued a statement (see previous InfoPowa reports) distancing itself from Dikshit's decision, which it described as personal and independent. The company did, however, reveal that its own protracted negotiations with the DoJ were in the final stages with a no-plea settlement likely at considerably less than Dikshit has agreed to pay.
The Times opines that once settlements are agreed, the sector is likely to undergo a rapid round of consolidation. In the recent past, deals, such as a mooted tie-up between Ladbrokes, the bookmaker, and 888 have come to nothing because of the risk of American litigation. That could all change with a settlement.
Ivor Jones, an analyst at Evolution Securities, told the newspaper: “Party Gaming and 888, as two of the largest companies, look likely to start the process. We believe combining the two would release at least $70 million of synergies.”
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