I am pleased and honoured to be able to present the first annual report from Alderney - and I thank you all for recommending and supporting the inclusion of such a report. In our economy was buoyant. Our on-line Gambling Industry, established in was, and indeed still is, bringing in much needed capital.
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Alderney is the most northerly and remote of the Channel Islands. To get to the island there are 12 spaces on a passenger ferry from Guernsey, but the most common route is via a short flight on an ageing, seat, triple-propeller Trislander from Guernsey or Southampton. The airport is a small box building, resembling a well-worn prefab classroom.
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Three square miles of windswept heathland, overrun with rabbits, gently cresting out of the waters about eight miles west of the Cherbourg peninsula in Normandy, Alderney has a secret. It might not look it, but, according to the website of the Alderney Gambling Control Commission AGCCthis is the a hi-tech internet hub for a multibillion-pound global online gambling industry.
Punters playing poker, slots, bingo and placing all manner of sports bets are routed through Alderney from almost all corners of the world — including some where such activity is considered illegal. Near the centre of Alderney rises a microwave transmission mast through which communication with the outside world is conducted.
Alderney's energy needs are provided by a diesel-powered generator. The regulator's website has been closed for maintenance for several days recently but, when it is working, it tells readers: "Alderney transmits more internet e-gambling traffic than any other location on the globe and is in fact much larger than the combined activity of its three European offshore rivals [Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and Malta].
Hunting down these online companies and their internet servers on the islands quickly le to frustration.
The island's company register is held at the modest court house, run by the friendly greffier, or official records-keeper, Sarah Kelly. She has just been updating the register and says there are now companies incorporated in Alderney. According to an IMF report published in January last year, the majority of companies on the island are online gambling firms. There is no requirement to file s at the Alderney court house, but official addresses and the names of directors are on the register.
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Poring through the files many of the same addresses come up repeatedly. One is a former hotel, converted into offices, another is an office above the island's popular Nellie Gray curry house. In many cases, the register shows Alderney companies have just one director, who gives an overseas address. The declared shareholder can be masked behind nominee companies. Michael Ellen, the AGCC's director of licensing and strategy, works at the gambling regulator's offices, directly opposite the court house.
He explains why there is little to see. All the hi-tech infrastructure has grown up on neighbouring Guernsey: "We do not have the power, the juice, the electricity to power the data centres. Back on Guernsey the online gambling industry has become a ificant employer.
One of the biggest firms is London-listed Sportingbet, which is the shirt sponsor for Guernsey football club. Island ministers opening their arms to the industry have boasted of bandwidth capacity greater than that available across South Africa. Robin Le Provost, who le Alderney's drive to attract gambling firms, claims the industry is now the third largest economic contributor to Guernsey after finance and tourism, though this claim cannot be confirmed by island statistics officials.
The principal attraction of Alderney to gambling groups is that there are no gambling or corporation taxes. In even the then-state-owned Tote began running online operations through an Alderney licence which meant it avoided UK tax. Boyd Kelly, husband of the greffieris a retired West Midlands police officer who moved to the island 13 years ago now sits in Alderney's parliament.
He was briefly involved in the early stages of gambling regulation on Alderney and recalls how islanders' first ambition in had been to build a casino. At its peak the telephone betting operations of these firms brought almost jobs to the island. Some of the new workforce had to speak several languages, as bets came in from the Far East and around the world. These jobs faded away, however, as companies switched to focus online.
Explosive growth in internet gambling from the start of the millennium saw even more business arriving in Alderney. But by far the largest group actively operating from servers on Guernsey, under an Alderney licence, was, until 15 April last year, Full Tilt Poker. At the time this was the world's second largest online poker firm, branded around star players Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson — each of whom had a stake in the business. Controversially, however, it continued to offer poker to customers in the US where payments for gambling activities had been outlawed in In poker circles, 15 April is referred to as "Black Friday".
It was then, after more than a year of rumours, the FBI seized the web address of Full Tilt and three other firms it said were illegally offering poker to US citizens.
One of America's most successful white-collar crime prosecutors, US district attorney Preet Bharara, charged senior executives, including Full Tilt's Dublin-based boss Ray Bitar, with bank fraud and money laundering on an industrial scale. Back in Alderney, the news was a bombshell, the AGCC's Ellen recalls — despite the views of US authorities on offshore internet poker firms being well known.
The AGCC had been aware of the rumours of a sealed indictment against Full Tilt but had been satisfied, after speaking to company representatives, that they were unfounded. One of the first responses to Bharara's move was to try to provide reassurance to players around the world, including thousands in the UK. Whatever the situation in the US, punters needed to know funds in their Full Tilt s were safe. Ellen, an experienced businessman with a background in auditing, led an emergency investigation, flying to Dublin to get sight of paperwork showing the situation regarding the security of player funds.
Satisfied all was well, a statement was put up on the AGCC website. In its literature and on its website, the AGCC had repeatedly stressed it attached "great importance to player protection" and that "transparency is paramount [in relation to] protection of player funds". Regulated firms, the AGCC had promised, had all been through a rigorous "fit and proper" test and companies were incorporated on the island only after -off by the Guernsey Financial Services Commission.
In September, Bharara filed a revised indictment against Full Tilt bosses which seemed to confirm the worst fears about player funds. It said: "Not only did the firm orchestrate a massive fraud against the US banking system, as ly alleged, Full Tilt also cheated and abused its own players to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker company, but a global Ponzi scheme. Bosses, the US allege, had responded by dipping into other players' funds to keep the business afloat.
They were also alleged to have helped themselves. He has pleaded not guilty to nine charges including bank fraud, money laundering and running illegal online gambling operations. In a statement he said: "I know that a lot of people are very angry at me.
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I understand why. Full Tilt should never have gotten into a position where I love sex Alderney could not repay player funds. The AGCC suspended or withdrew Full Tilt's licences, though the exercise was largely academic as the site has not been able to trade since and thousands of players today remain out of pocket. When Full Tilt first set up in Alderney inabove the Nellie Gray curry house, the regulator knew its business with US players involved what the American authorities regarded as illegal activities, though some lawyers had provided legal opinion that this view was incorrect.
In the end the AGCC took the view — as they did with other es — that so long as there were not legal findings against them in the US, or elsewhere, Full Tilt should be welcome in Alderney. When the company proved reluctant to disclose in writing the identity of the ultimate owners of associate companies, AGCC officials were left struggling to satisfy themselves the company was "fit and proper".
A solution was found. Instead of demanding written certification of who owned Full Tilt companies, the regulator would allow the major shareholders to retain a degree of anonymity, in exchange for written assurances as to their good character submitted via the group's London lawyers, Jeffrey Green Russell. Tony Coles from the law firm said the unusual arrangement had been entered into at the suggestion of the AGCC.
He stressed Jeffrey Green Russell had acted only as an intermediary, offering no assurances itself. They were, he politely noted, "less than ideal".
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That said, he concluded, in the round the actions of the regulator had been "appropriate, timely and fair. It remains to be seen whether the IMF's anti-money laundering team, when next they return to Guernsey and Alderney, take a similarly sympathetic view. Today the Full Tilt website says: "We apologise but the system is currently down.
Please check back later.
While we believed that offering … online poker did not violate any federal laws — a belief supported by many solid and well-reasoned legal opinions — the department of justice took a different view. There was good news too. This had helped repair the quay, provided a water filtration plant and paid for the some work on the court house.
With the of gambling es coming to Alderney continuing to rise, there was, he said, every hope the AGCC would continue to contribute these considerable funds to the island for years to come.
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It is an optimism not everyone shares. Many countries — including the UK — are preparing to follow the example of France and Italy, compelling online gambling firms to take a regional licence and pay local taxes. This could be another headache for Alderney next year.
The next morning, fog delayed the two early flights out of Alderney. Among those departing were one or two AGCC officials.
Even many of the regulators commute from Southampton or elsewhere, and do not have a home on this remote island. Islands apart: Channel Islands under scrutiny Channel Islands. This article is more than 8 years old. Gamblers are routed through Alderney from throughout the world — including some where such activity is illegal.
The business was effectively shut down by the FBI. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian. Simon Bowers. Reuse this content.