And at $33 million it's a better deal than expected
Making the mainstream headlines everywhere mid-week is the news that the UK internet gambling group Sportingbet.com has settled with the US Department of Justice regarding its pre-UIGEA activities. And the good news for investors is that, at $33 million, the deal is better than that experienced by other companies and individuals.
The agreement better positions the company should online gambling be legalised and regulated in the United States, with just such an initiative through the committee stage in Congress and awaiting debate.
“This non-prosecution deal is an excellent agreement,” Barry Slotnick, a lawyer for Sportingbet, said yesterday of the deal with Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “It’s good for the company and for its shareholders. Ultimately some day, Sportingbet may return back to U.S. shores when Internet gambling becomes legal.”
As part of the non-prosecution agreement entered Monday between the company and Bharara’s office, Sportingbet said it would maintain a permanent restriction on providing Internet gambling services to U.S. customers as required by U.S. law, unless the law changes.
The company also agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and an ongoing probe by prosecutors in Bharara’s office. According to news agency reports, Sportingbet agreed to provide the US government with requested documents and make its employees available to U.S. investigators.
“We spent three years coming to this ultimate conclusion,” Barry Slotnick, a lawyer for Sportingbet, told the Bloomberg news agency in a phone interview.
The agreement documentation includes a statement by Sportingbet which admits that from 1998 until October 12, 2006, when the UIGEA passed, it offered Internet gaming to players located in the U.S., including real-money sports betting as well as wagering on poker and casino games. By the end of 2006, most of its active customers were located in the U.S., the company said.
Beginning in 2001, Sportingbet began using payment processing methods designed to misrepresent the nature of its customers’ gaming transactions to U.S. credit card issuers that disallowed the use of their cards for Internet gambling, the company said in court papers.
Sportingbet also took steps to mask payments of gaming winnings to U.S. customers, the company said in the statement filed as part of the accord.
The $33 million settlement is substantially lower than the $105 million which Party Gaming plc paid to clean its slate of similar potential prosecutions.
In return, US authorities have agreed not to prosecute officers of Sportingbet for accepting bets from US citizens prior to passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
Speaking for the government, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara outlined the factors considered by his department in quantifying and making the settlement decision. He said that these were paid down in the Department of Justice Principles of Federal Prosecutions of Business Organizations, namely:
(1) Sportingbet’s cooperation with the Government’s ongoing investigation into the illegal online gambling industry;
(2) Sportingbet’s termination of all real-money Internet gambling services for U.S. customers in October 2006;
(3) its agreement to disgorge $33 million; and
(4) the negative effect that charges against Sportingbet would have on the company’s innocent employees and legitimate activities.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Arlo Devlin-Brown and Nicole Friedlander ran the investigation into Sportingbet, assisted by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard is in charge of the forfeiture arrangements.