PartyGaming founder to plead guilty ?

Anurag Dikshit, one of the four founders, and a 27 percent shareholder in the Gibraltar-based Internet gambling giant Party Gaming.com, is believed to have agreed to plead guilty to a charge relating to taking US wagers over the Internet pre-2006, according to reports in the Financial Times and TheTimesOnline. Dikshit has apparently agreed to pay a GBP 300 million (US$ 196 million) fine, and to "cooperate" in the US Department of Justice's continuing enquiries into online gambling in the United States.

It is not yet known whether Dikshit acts unilaterally or as part of Party Gaming negotiations with the DoJ which have been ongoing for some time in attempts to clean the slate on the company's US activities prior to the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.

Industry observers expect a statement from the company when trading opens on the London stock exchange this morning. A settlement could pave the way for the company to resume consolidation negotiations with other firms.

The company exited the US market when the UIGEA came into force, taking a 70 percent loss in its business from which it has been fighting back ever since.

The reports suggest that Dikshit will make an appearance later today (Tuesday) in the Southern District Court of New York, scene of many online gambling legal actions in the past, including one which drove Neteller plc from the US and Canadian markets. He is expected to enter a guilty plea, probably under the Wire Act which covers sportsbetting, although the position of casino and poker wagering under its provisions is arguable.

Dikshit's motivation is not presently known as he has made no personal statements. He is a native of India resident in Gibraltar, and reportedly risks a jail term of up two years by entering the US to make the plea agreement.

Dikshit, along with Ruth Parasol, her husband Russell DeLeon and marketing expert Vikrant Bhargava founded the forerunner of Party Gaming, Starluck Casino Online and iGlobalMedia in 1998, with Dikshit providing software engineering expertise. Parasol's expert contribution was in electronic payment processing, website content management, online gaming regulations and international taxation. In 2001, Parasol and Dikshit launched PartyPoker.com, which was to grow dramatically to over $500 million in annual profits by 2005.

In June 2005, PartyGaming Plc floated on the London Stock Exchange at a value of GBP 4.64 billion ($8.46 billion) and in September was admitted to the FTSE 100 list of companies.

The enterprise made billionaires of the founders, and Dikshit, Parasol and DeLeon are believed to be among the wealthiest residents of Gibraltar. Parasol and DeLeon, who hold 14 percent each of Party Gaming according to the reports, have also been the subject of speculation suggesting they may be negotiating with the US authorities.

Born in Sindri, Jharkhand, Dikshit graduated with a Bachelor of Technology degree in computer science and engineering from India's Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 1994. He completed schooling at De Nobili School, FRI, Jharkhand. Following graduation, Dikshit worked as a software developer in the United States at CMC, as a systems analyst for Websci and later as a consultant for AT&T.

With a current fortune estimated to be $1.75 billion, he is 35th on the list of the richest Indians in the world, the TimesOnline reports. He is reported to be a quiet, family man with wide philanthropic interests and a passion for chess.

He designed the original software programme with scaleability in mind, which proved to be the linchpin of the group's success. Underpinned by Parasol's and Bhargava's astute marketing skills, pre-tax profits of less than $6 million in 2002 jumped to $370 million in three years as US players frequented PartyPoker.com. The company's almost GBP 5 billion flotation in June 2005 was one of the biggest on the London exchange for some time, and made GBP 420 million for Dikshit when he sold over 350 million of his shares following the IPO.

Parasol and husband Russ DeLeon, together with Vikrant Bhargava and the management team, benefitted too - selling a total of GBP 1.3 billion worth of shares.

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