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Justice Department Takes Down Online Poker Sites

Michael Kaplan
Posted: April 21, 2011

Last Friday night, the stars had aligned: My wife was out, the kids were putting themselves to sleep, and my work for the week had been completed. I figured I'd buy into a set of 90-man sit-n-go tournaments on Full Tilt and play eight of them simultaneously. I had a Montecristo No. 2 clipped and ready to go. Great night, right?

Then, upon logging into the site, I received the same surprise that thousands of other American online poker players received that night. The domain had been seized by the United States Department of Justice. Same thing on Poker Stars and Ultimate Bet, the other two major online poker sites that cater to American players.

Player accounts were frozen, arrest warrants had been issued for the sites' key executives and charges were levied that included bank fraud. I can't say that the latter surprised me.

Because of federal laws that prohibit American banks from doing business with online poker entities, cash-outs to players usually came from vague companies that seemingly have nothing to do with poker.

Ultimately, that may be at the crux of the D.O.J.'s case against the sites' executives and a clutch of bankers who have been charged with assisting them (so far, 11 people have been charged in all). They allegedly created intentionally deceptive corporations in order to trick financial institutions into cashing checks and processing wire transfers.

Collateral damage in all of this is far and wide. Favorite poker shows—such as Poker After Dark, High Stakes Poker, and The Big Game—were bankrolled by the various sites.

Now that they are no longer marketing to American players, the sites have no reason to finance poker programming. So, watching Gus Hansen mix it up with Tom Dwan at 2:30 in the morning? Most likely that's history.

This year's World Series of Poker will be a much more intimate event, bereft of sponsored players and the agents who represented them. "My business disappeared overnight," groaned a rep who counts a recent WSOP champion on his roster. And for amateur players, guys like you and I who enjoy mixing it up on the virtual felts, well, we probably won't be doing it again any time soon.

Smaller, lesser known and less trafficked online poker operations are still courting American business, but putting my money in with one of those might be more of a crap shoot than I am comfortable with, at least for now.

Before feeding more cash into online poker, I'm hoping to get my funds back from Stars and Tilt—which, according to Wednesday's announcement of cooperation between the D.O.J. and those two sites, is beginning to seem increasingly likely.


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Comments   3 comment(s)

Mike Klink — Salisbury, PA, USA,  —  April 21, 2011 8:43pm ET

"Before feeding more cash into online poker, I'm hoping to get my funds back from Stars and Tilt—which, according to Wednesday's announcement of cooperation between the D.O.J. and those two sites, is beginning to seem increasingly likely."

Mike, I'd say your chances of that are the same as the those who ordered the cuban stogies from overseas only to be seized by the Customs and Border Patrol at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.


James C April 22, 2011 10:04am ET

I heard there were two countries that banned on line poker - USA and North Korea. One of those is touted as the Land of the Free.


Mike A Cardinal April 22, 2011 11:06am ET

thats some wishful thinking about getting ur money back.im glad i busted out the other day... lol


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