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22 September 2006

But it remains sufficient for the persecution of online gambling executives, a spokesperson says.

Origin of the Louisiana warrants has had a tough time of it recently

It was a location that few in the online gambling industry had heard of until recently, when it was deemed a disaster area in the wake of Hurricane Rita, yet St. Landry's Parish authorities contrived to splash its name across the international press after issuing sealed warrants for the arrest of international businessmen.

Citing the tough Louisiana state laws against "computer related gambling" in May this year, the state law enforcement officials obtained a warrant for the arrest of Sportingbet non-executive chairman Peter Dicks. Strangely, neither he nor the company were contacted and informed and when he next touched American soil on his way to unrelated board meetings in New York earlier this (September) month Dicks found himself deprived of his freedom and probably his dignity by New York officers doing a routine check for outstanding warrants.

It was a covert move that jailed a respectable businessman and sent stock prices on the London exchange into decline, wiping millions off the value of prominent companies. And Dicks had not even set foot in St. Landry's or indeed in the state of Louisiana for the last 20 years!

Fortunately, New York authorities seems to have more discretion than their compadres in Louisiana, and following the intervention of Governor George Pataki the British executive resigned his chairmanship and was allowed to leave the USA on the condition that he return on September 28 to fight the Lousiana attempt to haul him off to the Southern state.

But the name St. Landrey's had intrigued online gambling observers and reporters around the world, and details of the parish soon came to light. Following its classification as a Hurricane Rita disaster area, citizens in the parish were the recipients of government assistance. It wasn't long before the local newspaper carried an article titled "Gambling on the increase after Hurricane Rita" that described how some 7 percent of the local population were allegedly funding gambling activities with the government's generousity.

And when the U.S. Census Bureau's report on income and poverty was released last (August) month, it identified St. Landry as having the highest poverty levels and lowest average income in the United States for centres with a population of between 60 000 to 249 000.

The dominant state licensed and legal gambling centre in the area is the Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino, which arrived in St. Landrey's three years back and is operated by Peninsula Gaming Company, LLC, an Iowa-based entertainment company led by Chief Executive Officer Brent Stevens.

Available statistics show that since its arrival the company has made a very significant contribution to the Parish, namely $13.4 million in taxes, with a total of $39 million in taxes paid to the state itself. The casino facility alone reportedly employs over 800 people and in 2005 paid wages and benefits of nearly $19 million.

Where the Louisiana case will go is anybody's guess, but Dicks has made it clear that he will vigorously defend himself, and there are unconfirmed suggestions that the Louisiana enforcement authorities had better present a cast iron case for the unfortunate actions that this "stealth" warrant triggered. Some officials have confirmed that a further 49 undisclosed warrants are waiting for unnamed online gambling executives, ensuring that visits to the USA in general and the state of Louisiana in particular are unlikely to be high on the travel destinations list for international executives.

The issue breaks new ground in the confusing legal struggle taking place in the United States, not least in the Senate where Majority Leader Bill Frist is pushing for anti-online gambling legislation before the 109th Congress comes to a close in October.

Online Casino News courtesy of InfoPowa

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