The Financial Times speculation earlier this week that Party Gaming co-founder Anurag Dikshit (37) had made a $300 million deal with the US Department of Justice (see previous InfoPowa report) was proved correct when the billionaire gambling IT whiz appeared in the Southern District of New York court Tuesday afternoon, pleading guilty to a single charge under the 1961 Wire Act. Earlier, the Internet gambling billionaire had flown into New York after negotiating the settlement details for the past 18 months with the DoJ.
The legislation to which he submitted dates back before the Internet and was intended to stop telephone betting on sports events, although the DoJ insists it is applicable to Internet gambling
Accepting the online gambling mogul's plea, Judge Jed S. Rakoff noted that Dikshit had already paid the US federal authorities $100 million of an agreed $300 million settlement, and approved a schedule which will see Dikshit paying a further $100 million within the next three months, and a final payment of $100 million in September next (2009) year.
Sentencing was postponed for 2 years to December 16, 2010, and Dikshit was allowed to go free on bail of $15 million, limiting his travel to his native India, the European Union, and New York. He has also agreed to cooperate with the Department of Justice in further online gambling investigations.
Although Dikshit could technically face up to two years in jail on sentencing, it is thought unlikely that this will take place provided he meets his settlement commitments.
The Party Gaming co-founder still owns 28 percent of the giant Internet gambling company, and his interests took an immediate boost from a 27 percent surge in the stock price following the company's announcement earlier that it was in the final stages of a settlement with the DoJ.
Dikshit therefore saw the value of his stake in the firm jump by GBP 42.3 million to GBP 198 milion; in recent years he has taken GBP 529 million from the business in shares and dividends - more than his three co-founders: former British Gas analyst Vikrant Bhargava, Ruth Parasol and her husband, Russ DeLeon. His residual holding in the group was last (Tuesday) night worth almost exactly the same as the $300 million he agreed to forfeit to the US courts," one wire service report noted.
Dikshit made GBP 420 million when the company floated in 2005 and an additional GBP 65.7 million when he sold another batch of shares the following year. He also received a dividend of $64 million in 2006.
Appearing for the government before Judge Rakoff, Acting US Attorney Lev Dassin confirmed Dikshit's first payment and noted that he had resigned from the board of the company, which was now focused on the European and Asian markets and no longer accepted US wagers. Dikshit had played a leading role in developing a proprietary software platform for PartyGaming, and directing its computer operations from 1998 through October 2006.
"During that time a substantial majority of PartyGaming's online gambling customers - who accounted for approximately 85 percent of PartyGaming's revenue in 2005 - were located in the United States," the Justice Department said.
Party Gaming spokesmen had earlier advised the media that Dikshit's decisions and actions were personal and independent of the company's approach to the US issues. The company advised that its negotiations with the DoJ aimed at wiping the slate clean on its pre-UIGEA activities in the United States were at an advanced stage, although it stressed that there would be no corporate guilty plea, and that the amount of any settlement would be substantially less than the $300 million to which Dikshit has agreed.
"The company's discussions with the DoJ have made good progress and it is currently negotiating the final terms of a possible settlement," PartyGaming said in a statement. "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 reached between the company and the DoJ. In addition, the company believes that any such settlement is unlikely to include a criminal plea on the part of the company or any director.
"On the basis of the discussions to-date, PartyGaming expects any settlement with the DoJ to involve a payment by the Company of an amount that is significantly lower than that reported to be paid by Mr. Dikshit," it said.
The Bloomberg news agency reported that the settlement is significant because it is the first time that the United States has successfully used the threat of Wire Act-related prosecution in an online matter not related to sportsbetting, and saves both Dikshit and US officials the uncertain outcome of a trial. However, at least one other expensive deal has also been struck in the past with Neteller, an e-processing company that paid millions in a settlement with the DoJ that saw it forced out of the US market.
It is known that in addition to the talks underway with Party Gaming, the DoJ has also held discussions with Sportingbet and 888.com, both of which exited the US market when the UIGEA was passed.