Sportingbet boss returns to UK after extradition case falters

Peter Dicks, the Sportingbet chairman arrested on gambling charges in America last week, was on his way back to Britain last night after a New York judged ruled that an extradition warrant issued in his name was not good enough to hold him in custody.

The decision was made at a brief hearing at Queens criminal court yesterday morning, where Mr Dicks appeared before Judge Gene Lopez. He was flanked by his two American lawyers who simply confirmed his name and asked for his passport to be returned.

Mr Dicks, who resigned as Sportingbet’s chairman yesterday to focus on his defence, had been detained on September 6 at John F Kennedy Airport on charges of illegal gambling by computer that were contained in an outstanding warrant issued by the State of Louisiana.

The Times understands that Louisiana has a total of more than 50 warrants outstanding against executives from internet gambling companies that have clients who live within the state’s boundaries. These warrants will remain sealed unless, as happened in the case of Mr Dicks, an arrest is made.

It is believed that those targeted by the warrants include other Sportingbet directors, including Nigel Payne, the chief executive, and board members of companies including PartyGaming and 888 Holdings. John Anderson, the chief executive of 888, stepped down yesterday, although he denied the move was related to the US legal situation.

Mr Dicks was the second British executive to be detained on internet gambling charges in the US. David Carruthers, then chief executive of BetOnSports, was arrested earlier and is awaiting trial on federal gambling charges in St Louis Missouri.

Online sports betting is deemed to be illegal in America under the 1961 Wire Act, although a small number of states, including Louisiana, have outlawed all forms of internet gambling, including poker and casinos.

Mr Dicks, who was arrested by the Port Authority Police Department, was later freed on USD 50,000 (GBP 26,000) bail provided he remained within the five boroughs of New York. The extradition warrant was issued by the State of Louisiana but was cancelled at the eleventh hour by George Pataki, the Governor of New York, after Mr Dicks’s lawyers argued that it was incorrect.

A lawyer representing the State of New York gave no reason for the warrant’s withdrawal but said that prosecutors would not be seeking Mr Dicks’s extradition. His passport and driving licence were returned to him and Judge Lopez confirmed that he could travel back to Britain but must return to Queens for another hearing on September 28.

After the hearing Mr Dicks declined to comment other than to tell The Times that he believed he had been treated “fairly” while in US custody.

Barry Slotnick, one of his lawyers, said: “We argued late into the night that the warrant against Mr Dicks was not proper, not least because he is not guilty of committing any crime. We are very pleased that New York has decided not to extradite him.”

Mr Slotnick added that the State of Louisiana would be present at the court hearing in two weeks to argue the case for extradition once more.