Wembley chief quits to fight bribery charge

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The Independent Online

Nigel Potter, the chief executive of the track-based gaming group Wembley, has been indicted on bribery charges by a Federal Grand Jury in the US state of Rhode Island. Indictments were also issued against Wembley's US subsidiary Lincoln Park and its chief executive Dan Bucci.

The indictments allege that planned payments of up to $4.5m (£2.8m) to the law firm McKinnon & Harwood constituted a conspiracy to improperly influence the actions of public officials. McKinnon & Harwood is run by the former Rhode Island House speaker John Harwood. The indictments go on to allege that the payments were aimed to help Lincoln Park gain authorisation for installation of coin-operated slot machines at its Rhode Island dog track, Lincoln Park, to win approval for increasing the number of video lottery machines at Lincoln Park and to prevent legislation facilitating the development of a casino in Rhode Island run by the Narragansett American Indian tribe.

The indictments include details of a facsimile from Mr Bucci to Mr Potter in August 2000 which states that due to the need to "advance slots, add machines and silence the Indians", a "reward" should be given to Lincoln Park supporters who "took the brunt of media assaults". Another facsimile indicates that a delay in payment of an "incentive" to McKinnon and Harwood "validates the feeling" that Wembley is "unwilling to participate in common business practices". In further correspondence, Mr Bucci indicated that a named lawyer had said that any payment to Daniel McKinnon of McKinnon and Harwood should be referred to as a "bonus" and not a "retainer".

Shares in Wembley plunged more than 21 per cent to close down 142.5p at 520p after the announcement of the indictments.

Mr Potter and Mr Bucci are standing down from their respective executive duties to concentrate on defending the charges. The Wembley chairman, Claes Hultman, will assume Mr Potter's role.

Mr Hultman said yesterday: "No payment was approved and no payment was ever made. These allegations will be vigorously defended".

If Lincoln Park and the two directors are found guilty on all 22 counts, fines could top $16.5m and the state lottery commission could revoke the company's licence to operate video lottery terminals. There could also be a punitive damages lawsuit from the Narragansett, who are still awaiting a verdict on their casino application.

In January, the Rhode Island Lottery Commission approved a further 1,300 video lottery terminals at Lincoln Park. The company, which sold Wembley conference centre last year, now generates approximately 90 per cent of its operating profit from slot machines.