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U.S. permanently bans BetOnSports

Settlement prohibits the London-based gambling site from accepting wagers from the United States ever again.

British gambling site BetOnSports has agreed to cease accepting wagers from U.S. customers, closing the civil component of the feds' battle against the operation.

Under a settlement entered Thursday by a federal judge in St. Louis, the company must also return all wagers received from U.S. customers as of July 17, 2006, to the appropriate account holders and set up a toll-free telephone hotline that gives U.S. members instructions on how to obtain their refunds.

The court instructed BetOnSports to cancel its U.S. trademarks to the name Betonsports.com, among others, and to cease advertising its properties inside the United States. The company must also place prominent markers on its sites to alert potential gamblers that "it is a violation of U.S. law to transmit sports wagers or betting information" on international telephone lines. In addition, it must take out a full-page ad broadcasting a similar statement in a U.S. newspaper with national circulation.

Company representatives were not immediately available for comment on Friday, but a representative told the Associated Press in a statement that BetOnSports was not admitting wrongdoing by agreeing to the settlement.

BetOnSports has already opted to shut off its "U.S. facing operations" based in Antigua and Costa Rica and to repay its American customers' account balances "in a timely manner," according to a notice posted on its Web site. Between 2002 and 2004, the company, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, took in wagers amounting to nearly $4 billion, 98 percent of which came from U.S.-based gamblers, according to court documents.

The civil settlement, however, does not end the once-prosperous gambling company's legal woes.

Criminal racketeering charges have been filed against the company and 11 of its employees, including founder Gary Kaplan and former Chief Executive Officer David Carruthers. Scottish-born Carruthers, who was arrested in July, pleaded not guilty. As part of the conditions of his bond, Carruthers remains under house arrest in a hotel outside St. Louis. Kaplan is a fugitive.

Combating the Internet gambling industry, which rakes in an estimated $12 billion annually, proved high on the Bush administration's agenda this year. A controversial measure that criminalizes transferring funds related to most forms of Internet gambling received President Bush's signature in October, albeit in a seemingly unlikely place: a massive port security bill.