Sunday, October 25, 2009

Anurag Dikshit’s Sale of Party Gaming Stock Receives Mixed Reaction, by Dan Cypra - 25th October 2009

One of the major poker headlines this week was the news that Party Gaming Cofounder Anurag Dikshit would divest himself of nearly 114 million shares of the company’s stock, which is traded in London under the symbol “PRTY.” Now, the industry has had a chance to react.

The internet gambling think tank sported mixed reactions to the news, as Dikshit’s departure meant that a man who admitted to violating U.S. law in a New York courtroom one year ago would no longer hold any interest in the company. Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) Chairman Joe Brennan told Poker News Daily, “The thing to take away is that this is probably good overall for Party Gaming. When you have one of their founders pleading guilty, if and when things start to get normalized in the U.S. and Party Gaming comes into the market, they need to clear it off the books. The fact that he’s exiting the company is good for its future.”

When internet gambling will be legalized and regulated in the United States is anyone’s guess. Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced HR 2267 in May as one solution. The bill outlines a framework for the explicit legalization of the industry and, although the measure is up to 62 cosponsors, it has not yet been scheduled for markup in the House Financial Services Committee.

On how members of Congress and others outside of the industry would react to Dikshit’s exit, Brennan explained, “If Dikshit leaving Party Gaming can be a benefit to that company, I would say that it does the same broadly for the industry.” Financial analyst Nick Batram told Bloomberg that Dikshit’s departure meant that Party Gaming “may also find it easier to raise funds from institutional investors rather than the founders for large sports gambling acquisitions.” The Wire Act of 1961 has historically been interpreted to mean that online wagering on sports is not permitted in the U.S.

Dikshit will purportedly turn over the proceeds of his sale, which will likely total more than ₤188 million, to his charitable foundation. On the TwoPlusTwo online poker forums, posters questioned Dikshit’s charitable motives: “If he donated to an established charity that could not be mistaken for a front, then that would be impressive,” one skeptic noted. Some have speculated that tax benefits are the real reason behind his actions. Brennan told Poker News Daily, “He wants to get out of the business and focus on his charitable endeavors.”

The sale of two-thirds of Dikshit’s stake sent shares of Party Gaming plummeting. Trading above 284 pence on October 19th, the stock dove to 240 pence in 24 hours, a dip of 15%. PRTY closed trading on Friday on the London Stock Exchange fetching 243 pence, 135 pence above its asking price one year ago.

An article in the Financial Times summed up the reaction from most of the industry: “The truth, however, is that while the distancing of Mr Dikshit can’t be bad for Party Gaming, it is still frustratingly unclear what the odds are on a successful return to the U.S. market.” In five weeks, the financial services industry in the United States must fall into full compliance with the regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The impact of the December 1st deadline remains to be seen, but the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) recently authored a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke asking for the UIGEA’s regulations to be delayed by one year.

Party Gaming Cofounders Ruth Parasol and Russ DeLeon, a husband and wife team, have not yet announced their intentions to sell stock or formulate a plea agreement with the U.S. Government. (Credit: Poker News Daily)

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