High-Risk Game of Online Betting Claims Another Executive Scalp ; OUTLOOK

By Warner, Jeremy | The Independent (London, England), September 8, 2006 | Go to article overview
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High-Risk Game of Online Betting Claims Another Executive Scalp ; OUTLOOK


Warner, Jeremy, The Independent (London, England)


After the warning of David Carruthers, the former BetonSports chief executive nowunder house arrest in Texas for alleged infringement of US gaming laws, the working assumption, not to mention the legal advice, was that online gaming executives who valued their liberty should steer clear of the US. The fearless Peter Dicks, chairman of Sportingbet, chose to ignore that warning, believing wrongly that a non-executive chairman pursuing unrelated business would be safe. He's already paying the price.

His arrest will only heighten a growing sense of paranoia in the City and business about the dangers of doing business in the US. Yet the fact of the matter is that online and telephone betting on sports events is unambiguously illegal in the US, and it was always ill advised to think otherwise. An eventual crackdown was always highly likely.

This might seem silly to us, especially from a land that has brought us the vulgarity and misery of industrial-scale gambling, Las Vegas-style. Yet the historical reasons for it - the widescale fixing of sports events by organised crime for gaming purposes in the 1950s and 1960s - seem sound enough.

If something is banned, then it is wrong to attempt to make a business out of it. To argue otherwise, as all these companies do, is as ridiculous as claiming the Medellin Drugs Cartel should be legitimised as a business because it satisfies a clear demand in the US in an efficient manner. In any case, Mr Dicks' arrest is further evidence that any climate of toleration is fast giving way to one of enforced prohibition.

Online gaming sites, as opposed to sports betting, such as Party- Gaming, insist they are not covered by the Wire Act provisions used against the likes of Mssrs Dicks and Carruthers.

Wisely, however, few others are taking any risks. None of Party- Gaming's executives plan to travel to the US any time soon, this despite the fact that the vast bulk of their revenues come from there. No wonder PartyGaming's chief executive, Mitchell Garber, was so keen to emphasis his plans for expansion elsewhere in the world in his interims yesterday. Even for him, the days of American plenty could be coming to an end.

Fink takes a backseat at Man Group

Stanley Fink is the man who has everything - wonderful wife, wonderful children, a fascinating job, outstanding success in the City, and self-made wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Yet he has been forced to find out the hard way that none of it means anything if you don't have your health.

About to board a plane after a holiday in South Africa two years ago, he suddenly became aware that he had lost the power of speech. Subsequent investigation uncovered everyone's worst nightmare - a tumour on the brain' Mr Fink, chief executive of the hugely successful hedge fund operator, Man Group, was just 46 and staring untimely and harrowing death in the face.

As it turned out, the tumour was benign and the operation to remove it a miraculous success. Within two months he was back at his desk, albeit with his speech, which he had had to relearn, slightly impaired and his previously Herculean levels of stamina flat on their back. To the relief of family and friends, Mr Fink is now fully recovered and back in rude health. Yet few go through an experience like that without it being life-changing.

Nobody should doubt Mr Fink's commitment to what he does or his company. He's been with Man virtually all his working life, the last six years of it as chief executive, during which he has transformed the company from its routes in commodity trading into Europe's largest quoted hedge fund manager with funds of $54bn. He's more than earned his right to step back from the pressures of the chief executive's suite. It's got nothing to do with health' but it may have something to do with those dark days when Mr Fink wondered whether he would be returning to work at all, let alone the demands of running a FTSE100 company.

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