New York judge sets free former Sportingbet chairman

Peter Dicks, the former chairman of Sportingbet, was set free yesterday after New York state governor George Pataki refused to sign an order for the extradition of the 64-year-old executive to Louisiana to face charges of illegal computer gambling.

„I am very grateful,“ the visibly relieved Mr Dicks said outside the courthouse. Flanked by his team of lawyers, he called his wife to report the news. „This is what they call a good moment,“ he told her. Moments earlier Mr Dick, in a grey Savile Row suit, had been standing before Judge Gene Lopez, while a more typical roster of fellow defendants from the low-income neighbourhood of Queens – mostly small time burglars and hustlers – awaited their court appearance.

As the hearing began – not far from the scene of his arrest this month at JFK airport – Mr Dicks was unaware that Mr Pataki had decided New York would not execute Louisiana’s request. Mr Dicks‘ lawyer, Barry Slotnick, said Mr Pataki had „reviewed all the papers and heard all the arguments and decided that extradition was not appropriate“.

Yesterday’s ruling by Judge Lopez only lifts the arrest warrant on Mr Dicks in New York. It does not affect the validity of the warrant in other states. He could be liable for re-arrest if he ventures elsewhere in the United States. Yesterday, Mr Dicks said he had no plans to return to America.

Asked how he would rate his three-week experience in the New York criminal justice system, he said it had been a „colourful and interesting experience“.

Mr Slotnick said he would try to get Mr Dicks‘ arrest warrant lifted at source and „hopefully put this entire matter to rest“. Although the case in Louisiana remains sealed, it is understood that as many as 50 online gambling executives, some from Britain, are named in the indictment and have warrants out for them.

Nor does yesterday’s ruling effect the case of David Carruthers, the former chief executive officer of BetonSports, who was charged under federal anti-gambling statutes and is still being held in St Louis, Missouri.

Mr Dicks‘ ordeal began on September 7 when an immigration officer ran his name through a computer and found that there was a warrant out on him in Louisiana. Mr Dicks was arrested and held for 48 hours before he was released on bail.

While Mr Dicks maintained that his experience in jail was „fine“, yesterday in court was more like an episode of the TV series NYPD Blue than anything the executive can have experienced before.

Most of the cases before Judge Lopez in the largely immigrant section of the city were for drunk driving, assault, robbery and other street crimes.

As part of their sentence, many defendants were sent to attend anger management classes.

Mr Dicks resigned as chairman in order to clear his name and, asked if he thought it likely he would go back to work for the company following his ordeal, he said, laughing: „I think they’ve had enough of me.“

Back in Britain, the Barclay brothers, owners of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph newspaper titles, decided to quit the troubled sector when they sold their gaming site Ritz Club London Online to UKbetting, the online sports and gaming company, for an undisclosed sum.

The site had earlier in the week become the latest victim of the worldwide crackdown on online gaming when it was closed to new members. It will have no connection with the the Ritz Club casino in the Ritz Hotel in London which the Barclays continue to own.