Gambler’s Largesse

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Indicted gaming tycoon Anurag Dikshit, who made his millions from online gambling, is now giving away most of it to charities, says Kunal Majumder

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

WHAT DOES one say about Anurag Dikshit? That he is an unassuming man from the coal city of Dhanbad? That he graduated from IIT Delhi, landed up in the US, raked in millions and then started donating most of his earnings to charities? Philanthropist Dikshit has also been indicted by the Southern District Court of New York in an online gambling case, which has fixed December 2010 as the date of his sentencing.

All one can do is speculate, because the man himself refuses to speak. “I really want my life to stay as private as possible,” wrote the controversial cofounder of the world’s biggest online gambling company, PartyGaming (worth $1.08 billion) in an email to TEHELKA. “Till date I have not spoken to anyone in the media. Sorry to disappoint you, maybe someday far away.”

Perhaps it is Dikshit’s reluctance to speak up that has generated so much controversy; as also his voluntary surrender before the US court, where he pleaded guilty. “I came to believe it was in fact illegal under US law,” Dikshit told US District Judge Jed Rakoff in New York, referring to PartyGaming’s activity. “I have taken full responsibility for my actions.”

The axe on the $12 billion American online gambling industry fell in February 2006, when the US Congress outlawed credit card and money transfer companies from accepting payments made to gambling websites.

Currently based in Gibraltar, a British territory in the south of Spain, Dikshit’s move to quit the online gambling business has infuriated his former colleagues. But his beneficiaries are cheering, and with good reason: Dikshit has pledged the entire proceeds from the sale of 66 percent of his stake in PartyGaming — $350 million — to various charities. Legendary 10- time World Series Poker champion, Doyle Brunson, is hopping mad. “It looks like he would feel a sense of obligation to online poker, the industry that made him a rich man,” fumed Brunson. “Instead, he folded up like an accordion and pled guilty to breaking some kind of mystery law.” The law in question is the US Wire Act, which bans online sports betting. In December 2008, Dikshit pleaded guilty under this legislation and paid a fine of $300 million. Currently he is on bail, which confines his movements to Gibraltar, India, the UK and New York.

After his graduation from IIT Delhi, he left for the US in 1994 and worked with companies like the CMC, Websci and AT&T. The turning point in his career came in 1997 when he met Ruth Parasol, a lawyer who was running an online pornography business. Together they first launched Starluck Casino, an online gambling company, and later switched to poker through a new company called PartyGaming in 2001. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange in June 2005, making Dikshit the world’s 207th richest person. By the end of that year his estimated fortune was $1.75 billion.

The shy billionaire, based in Gibraltar, wants his life to stay as private as possible

While some may doubt Dikshit’s charitable intentions due to his indictment, his well-wishers insist that he is sincere. Dikshit had already launched Kusuma Foundation in 2007 (named after his mother) along with wife Soma Pujari to sponsor children’s education and rehabilitation in India, Gibraltar and the UK. Among his admirers is George Hess, former principal of Dikshit’s alma mater, the De Nobili School in Dhanbad, who needed a sponsor for a new school. “Anurag sent me an email offering to pay for the first building,” says Hess. “Initially I had asked for half a million, but the costs rose to $750,000. He was fine with this and paid it promptly.”

The only mystifying aspect of the case is why Dikhsit chose to surrender while others, who did not, are roaming free.

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