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Black Friday for US Online Poker Sites

Black Friday for US Online Poker Sites

Just when it seemed that momentum was building in the US for legal, regulated poker, the entire industry was completely shaken up on Friday, April 15th when the US Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted multiple industry executives on charges that included money laundering and wire fraud. Five domain names were seized (including FullTiltPoker.com, PokerStars.com, UB.com, and AbsolutePoker.com) and the founders and principals of those companies were indicted, as well as individuals from the banking and transaction processing industries.

The charges stem from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which was passed in the US in 2006, which sought to stamp out online poker by making it illegal for US banks and online poker sites to transfer funds back and forth. While the majority of online operators obeyed the law and left the US market (including PartyPoker, bwin, and others), some chose to stay and brave the wrath of the US government. PokerStars, Full Tilt, and AbsolutePoker/Ultimate Bet benfited greatly from the decision to stay, but Friday's move by the DOJ came as a very serious blow to all parties involved.

While the charges involve ignoring the UIGEA, those are actually the least worrisome part of the indictment; much more serious are the charges of wire fraud and money laundering, as well as the rather damning evidence and paper trail involving online poker sites conspiring to invest in US banks and set up shell companies to fraudulently code and process deposits and withdrawals from players in the US. Companies such as PartyPoker have successfully settled with the US government for issues such as operating an Internet casino that accepted bets from US players, but none have yet been faced with such serious charges as wire fraud and money laundering.

The impact of the indictments and domain seizures have been swift, as both Full Tilt and PokerStar have blocked US players from real money play and scrambled to set up new .eu and .uk domains for their day-to-day operations for clients outside the US. Both cancelled plans for upcoming live tournaments in the US and the recently announced partnerships with Las Vegas casinos (Wynn partnering with PokerStars and Station Casinos partnering with Full Tilt) quickly dissolved. All sites involved have reassured US players that any funds they have are safe, yet none have been able so far to provide a timetable for honoring cashouts from US players.

16-Apr-2011, 11:05

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