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Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Web gambling firm chairman locked up in Big Apple clinker


Sportingbet Plc chairman Peter Dicks was jailed last night in New York as he fought extradition to Louisiana on criminal charges of illegal Internet gambling.

Dicks, 64, was arrested just before midnight on Wednesday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Dicks is being held on a warrant filed in May in Louisiana as part of an investigation of illegal gambling, said Dwight Robinette, a spokesman for the Louisiana State Police.

Sportingbet is the second foreign company to be caught in a government crackdown in the US on illegal online gambling. US officials say online betting sites may launder money and sell drugs, and lack safeguards to screen out minors and gambling addicts.

"This is kicking out another block in the foundation that online gaming is trying to build," said Joseph Weinert, editor of Gaming Industry Observer, a trade publication based in Atlantic City, New Jersey. "This is more ammunition for those in Congress who seek to put the brakes on the industry."

Dicks appeared in state court in Kew Gardens, New York, in Queens County, for a hearing last night to deal with whether he would be extradited to Louisiana. He plans to seek bail today while his lawyer Peter Neiman fights extradition.

"This is far from the ordinary case," said Neiman, a former US prosecutor now with the Washington firm of WilmerHale. "He is not the type of person who would flee. This is not some mobster who has connections to the crime world. This is a highly reputable businessman from the United Kingdom."

The charge Dicks faces in Louisiana carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of US$20,000, Neiman said.

"There are serious legal defenses" to the crime alleged, Neiman told the presiding judge, Robert Raciti, who said he didn't have authority to grant bail to a fugitive.

Raciti set a date of Sept. 14 to consider extradition. Neiman suggested a bail of US$50,000. Raciti, a magistrate, said bail would have to be considered today by a justice of the court.

Another hearing is expected to take place next week, Sportingbet said in a Regulatory News Service statement yesterday.

Dicks joined Sportingbet as non-executive chairman in 2000, according to the company's Web site. Sportingbet said yesterday it will continue to operate "as normal."

The London-based company hasn't received correspondence from any US authority regarding Dicks' arrest or any related matter, it said in the statement yesterday.

"There are only a few states that have real clear statutes on the books that make operating gambling sites a felony," said Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California. Louisiana is one of them.

State authorities may find it difficult to pursue charges against Dicks, said attorney Lawrence Walters, a Florida lawyer who advises online casinos and poker rooms. Courts have ruled state law can't be applied to Internet transactions because such activity falls under the pre-empting Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Walters said.

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