The deadline for poker players to file a civil forfeiture claim for their account balances on Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker or Ultimate Bet with the U.S District Court at the Southern District of New York is Friday.
When the SDNY issued its Black Friday indictments against owners and employees from the online poker sites on April 15, the federal government seized many bank accounts containing an unknown amount of money as illegal proceeds subject to forfeiture. This is a substantial reason why the sites have been unable to refund U.S. players to date. Under U.S. law, people owed money by the defendants may make a claim to be paid out from the seized funds.
The one-page notice of claim is simple enough to fill out and submit in the short time frame, although there are complicated considerations to be made before anyone should do so. The Poker Players Alliance had its legal team prepare an information guide explaining the issues involved with filing a claim, including the form for filing such a claim at the end.
In short, the PPA advises that a civil forfeiture claim probably isn't worth doing unless the player is trying to collect a large sum, even then there are concerns.
The PPA examined the legal options for the organization to directly involve itself in the return of players' funds and determined that this is not a viable legal option because the PPA does not have the legal standing to make a claim on the behalf of players.
The deadline to file claims is the end of the business day on the East Coast on July 15 because third-party claims filed in civil forfeiture proceedings must be made within 60 days of the government's first publication of notice to seek forfeiture, which was done on May 16.
Filing the initial claim is possible without a lawyer, although it would be smart to consult with an attorney on whether filing a claim is worthwhile. Following the initial claim, an attorney would definitely be needed to follow up on the complaint within 21 days of its filing and then answer questions from the government. The attorney fees will add up.
The PPA advises that a player isn't automatically owner of the funds in an account owned by a poker site simply because the site is legally obligated to return the player's account balance. It's all complicated, and the PPA document explains the legalese in further detail. Filing a claim could actually lead to negative consequences. All questions answered will be public record, so the player would have to be sure that none of the information issued could come back to be harmful. If the court finds the claim frivolous, a civil penalty between $250 to $5,000 could be issued to the claimant. A claim can be considered frivolous even if everything the claimant said was true. All that matters is whether there is determined to be a legal basis for the claim, a matter that is in question.
The PPA document explains that the vast majority of players would have a difficult time demonstrating a valid claim to the funds in the seized accounts and that it would be a long process. If the money is going to come from the sites eventually, filing the civil claim isn't likely to make it happen any quicker.
For most players, it would probably be a better alternative to continue waiting in the hope that the sites are working to repay players, as helpless as that option feels.
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