There is positive news for online poker. It was announced Wednesday that Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars had struck a deal to regain the use of their respective dot-com sites. While players from the U.S. will still not be permitted to play for real money, the rest of the world will be able to use the sites for play.
In a press release, U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said, "On April 15, this Office and the FBI took specific legal action against 11 individuals who allegedly engaged not merely in the operation of illegal gambling businesses, but in massive wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering, despite repeated warnings and clear notice that their conduct was illegal in the United States. No individual player accounts were ever frozen or restrained, and each implicated poker company has at all times been free to reimburse any player's deposited funds. In fact, this Office expects the companies to return the money that U.S. players entrusted to them, and we will work with the poker companies to facilitate the return of funds to players, as today’s agreements with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker demonstrate."
In addition, the Full Tilt Poker statement addressed the issue of players' funds, which has been a lingering concern, and how these developments will help facilitate refunds. Below is a copy of Full Tilt's statement.
"Full Tilt Poker™ is pleased to announce that it has reached an agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to regain the use of its worldwide domain name, www.fulltiltpoker.com.
Although players in the United States will not be permitted to engage in real-money play, the agreement expressly allows for real-money play outside of the United States.
In addition, the agreement represents an important first step towards returning funds to U.S. players because it allows Full Tilt Poker to utilize its domain to facilitate the withdrawal of player funds. But, unfortunately, there remain significant practical and legal impediments to returning funds to players in the immediate future. As a result of the recent enforcement action, there exists no authorized U.S. payment channel through which to make refunds; Full Tilt Poker has no accounting of the millions of dollars of player funds that were seized by the government; and the government has not agreed to permit any of the seized player funds to be returned to the players.
Finally, there are numerous legal and jurisdictional issues that must be considered before poker winnings can be paid out to players throughout the United States. While Full Tilt Poker continues to believe that online poker is not illegal under federal law or in 49 states, the indictment and civil forfeiture action filed last Friday require Full Tilt Poker to proceed with caution in this area.
Notwithstanding these issues, Full Tilt Poker is ready to work diligently with the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York to try and resolve these issues and to get players their money back as soon as possible."
The U.S. Attorney’s Office statement elaborated upon the issue of player's money: “The Complaint, a related Indictment, and a related Restraining Order issued against multiple bank accounts utilized by the companies and their payment processors do not prohibit the companies from refunding players’ money. Nevertheless, this agreement will facilitate the return of money so that players can register their refund requests directly with Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker.”
It went on to say: “Under the terms of the agreements with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, the companies agreed that they would not allow for, facilitate, or provide the ability for players located in the United States to engage in playing online poker for ‘real money’ or any other thing of value. The agreements allow for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to use the pokerstars.com and fulltiltpoker.com domain names to facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. players’ funds held in account with the companies. The deposit of funds by U.S. players is expressly prohibited. In addition, the agreements do not prohibit, and, in fact, expressly allow for, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to provide for, and facilitate, players outside of the United States to engage in playing online poker for real money. The agreements also require the appointment of an independent Monitor to verify PokerStars’ and Full Tilt Poker’s compliance with the agreements. The Government stands to enter the same agreement with Absolute Poker if it so chooses.”
The statements from Full Tilt and the U.S. Attorney’s Office largely echo each other, but there is some confusion regarding two statements in particular. According to the former’s statement: “Full Tilt Poker has no accounting of the millions of dollars of player funds that were seized by the government.”
On the other hand, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office claimed that "No individual player accounts were ever frozen or restrained, and each implicated poker company has at all times been free to reimburse any player's deposited funds.” Obviously these two statements are in direct contrast to one another, and the reasoning behind it is not exactly clear. PokerNews has contacted Full Tilt Poker to try to get further explanation on the situation.
While this is a rare bit of good news since the events of "Black Friday," it did not come unaccompanied. According to PokerNews' numbers, PokerStars signups are up 20% over the past week, even with the events of last Friday. This is a sign that player confidence remains strong in the world's largest online poker site.
8:47 a.m. PDT: In a press release announcing that it has regained its dot-com domain, PokerStars says, "The company categorically denies the allegations brought by the US Department of Justice on 15th April 2011 and is taking all steps necessary to robustly defend itself, and the two named individuals. Meanwhile, the company has stopped offering real money poker services in the United States.
"Returning US players' funds is a top priority for PokerStars and the company can now start the process of returning money to its former US customers. All PokerStars player deposits are completely safe. The Isle of Man's strict licensing laws (similar to other jurisdictions where PokerStars holds licenses) require all funds to be held in accounts that are segregated from company assets. PokerStars has always complied with this requirement and continues to do so. This money is readily available to meet withdrawal demands, indeed the company continues to comply with withdrawal requests from players based outside the US as normal. Outside the U.S., PokerStars continues to operate business as usual."
1:54 p.m. PDT: PokerStars has released an FAQ page at PokerStars.com to address the many questions that U.S. players have regarding their account balances, playing online at PokerStars, and playing in PokerStars sponsored events.
April 21, 2011 11:27 a.m. PDT Full Tilt Poker issued another statement Thursday on FullTiltPoker.com saying, Full Tilt Poker has always maintained the highest levels of integrity and compliance with the law. Due to recent events, "Full Tilt Poker is unable to accept ‘Real Money’ play from customers residing in the United States. However, please know that your funds are safe and secure. We are working with the United States Attorney's Office in order to get players their money back as soon as possible."
"To further clarify any confusion, although the government did not seize individual players' accounts, it did seize the bank accounts in which those funds are held. At this time, the government has refused to release the seized bank accounts."
"Full Tilt Poker continues to believe that neither its affiliated companies nor its executives violated the law in the United States, and it plans to mount a vigorous defense."