Only a couple of months ago, arguably the largest crackdown against online gambling began with the arrest of the CEO of BetonSports. Apparently, we haven't seen the end of this nightmare for those who enjoy Internet gambling.
And now today,Online bookmaker Sportingbet said its chairman, Peter Dicks, had been detained by U.S. authorities, causing shares across the sector to dive as investors feared a crackdown on online gaming.
Analysts said the detention mirrored the detention in July of the CEO of another company that took online sports bets from the United States, Costa Rica-based BETonSPORTS.
BETonSPORTS former Chief Executive David Carruthers and seven others pleaded not guilty to racketeering and other charges. The company has since said it is closing its U.S. business.
Sportingbet said it had sought immediate temporary suspension of its shares pending clarification of the situation. Shares in the company were down 1.8 percent at 238-1/2 pence at the time of the suspension.
The news hit other shares across the sector, with PartyGaming down 10.5 percent, 888 plc down 15.2 percent and Playtech down 11.65 percent.
Sportingbet said earlier on Thursday it was in preliminary talks about making a possible all share offer for World Gaming Plc The two groups said that based on Sportingbet's closing price of 244 pence on Wednesday, the offer would value each World Gaming share at an implied price of 104 pence, valuing World Gaming at 107 million pounds.
"We have a long history with World Gaming," Sportingbet Finance Director Andy McIver told Reuters prior to the announcement that the group's chairman had been detained. "The servers that take our bets sit in a bunker in Antigua that is owned and maintained by World Gaming."
"This is about tidying up that relationship and taking control of key suppliers," he added.
With little more than 20 working days left before the November mid-term elections, the Senate faces a crowded agenda including 13 different funding bills to keep the government functioning when its new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have a tentative Oct. 9 adjournment date.
In its first session Tuesday since the August recess, Frist prioritized the appropriation bills, judicial nominee confirmations and halting Internet gambling as his top issues.
"Internet gambling threatens our families by bringing addictive behavior right into our living rooms," Frist said in floor remarks.
The House of Representatives approved legislation in July updating the 1961 Wire Act that bans sports wagering over the telephone to include all forms of online gambling.
The bill would also force banks and credit card companies to refuse payments to the estimated 2,300 offshore gambling sites located outside of U.S. jurisdiction.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (H.R. 4411) specifically exempts online horse racing and state lotteries from the legislation.
"We tried to get it done [Senate passage of the bill] before the recess but were unable to get unanimous consent to bring the bill up," Karen Weyforth, a spokesperson for Frist's office, told internetnews.com.
To make room on the jammed Senate calendar, Weyforth said Frist hopes to bring up the bill for a vote "with very little debate" by limiting the time available for floor discussion of the legislation.
Throughout both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has contended the Wire Act already covers Internet gambling.
Previous congressional efforts to clarify the law have failed.
Momentum for a new Internet gambling ban gained traction in January when former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
Proponents of the ban contend Abramoff used his influence to kill previous anti-gambling bills, pointing to allegations in court documents that he made payments of $50,000 to the wife of a unnamed Capitol Hill staffer for help in stopping at least one Internet gambling bill.
Department of Justice (DoJ) moved aggressively against London-based BetonSports, which maintains operations in Costa Rica and Antigua aimed at U.S. gamblers and now it appears they are doing the same exact thing with Sportingbet
In July, a St. Louis grand jury issued a 22-count indictment against the gambling firm and its top officers, charging them with racketeering, conspiracy and fraud, including failing to pay federal wagering excise taxes on more than $3.3 billion in wagers taken from U.S. bettors.
Former BetonSports CEO David Carruthers remains under house arrest in St. Louis while company founder Gary Kaplan remains a fugitive at large.
Peter Dicks most likely awaits the same fate.
I hardly think that the timing of these arrests is a coincidence. It's very scary to think that our government could and possibly will ban online gambling in the next few weeks.