BetonSports calls a halt to betting on US website

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The Independent Online

BetonSports, the online gaming business whose chief executive has been arrested in the US, has stopped taking bets from American customers.

The company, whose operations are based in Costa Rica to circumvent US laws which ban internet wagers, fell into line with a restraining order issued in a Missouri court earlier this week – even though US customers account for 80 per cent of its business. The company had earlier suspended its London-listed shares, saying it was not sure if it had a future.

BetonSports, its chief executive, David Carruthers, and its founder, Gary Kaplan, are among those named in a 22-count indictment alleging they run illegal offshore gambling operations.

News of the charges wiped more than £1.2bn off online gaming stocks listed in London, with PartyGaming diving 17 per cent, 888 Holdings dropping 13 per cent and Sportingbet falling 35 per cent.

BetonSports has been ordered by a US judge to return all the deposits it has received from American gamblers. At the time of its last results, $126m (£69m) of its $146m of customer deposits came from the US. The judge also ordered that phone companies stop offering services to the group.

Mr Carruthers was taken into custody in Dallas on Sunday, while changing planes en route to Costa Rica and faces a bail hearing on Friday. There is a warrant out for the arrest of Mr Kaplan, who lives in Costa Rica.

BetonSports has suspended its US website, putting up a notice saying it is temporarily unable to take bets. Customers who telephoned the company's Costa Rica-based helpline were given a variety of messages. Some were told the company was appealing the US ruling and business would be back to normal within 48 hours. Others were told that the service was down because of the weather.

One sceptical caller was told: "There is a lot of rain in Costa Rica, sir, and this has happened before. If I could take my phone to the window so you could hear the rain, I would."

BetonSports said it was "considering the serious business impact of the temporary restraining order on its business". It said: "Given the issues and uncertainties involved, until the review is complete and a fuller announcement can be made resolving the uncertainties concerning the future of the company, the board has requested the Stock Exchange to suspend trading in the company's shares."