Update – Check this page for up to date list of online poker sites accepting US players.
As of April 15th, 2011, American poker players can no longer play at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, or Ultimate Bet. The online poker sites shut down service to all US residents around 4:00PM, after US Attorney, Preet Bharara (Manhattan), officially filed money laundering and fraud charges against the sites’ owners.
Early in the day, players began to complain that the poker sites’ URLs weren’t working correctly. The normal content on pokerstars.com, fulltiltpoker.com, ub.com, and absolutepoker.com had been replaced by an FBI logo. Underneath the logo was an ominous block of text, warning players that the U.S. Government had seized the poker sites’ domain names and that the poker sites were shut down.
This led many to speculate that the poker sites were pulling an elaborate late April Fool’s prank. Some suggested that the sites must have been hacked, as poker rooms are no strangers to Denial of Service attacks. But this speculation proved to be misguided when the South New York District Attorney’s released a news wire, officially confirming that indictments are pending against the poker companies.
The indictment names 11 defendants: Isai Scheinberg, Raymond Bitar, Scott Tom (of Absolute Poker fame), Brent Beckley, Nelson Burtnick, Paul Tate, Ryan Lang, Bradley Franzen, Ira Rubin, Chad Elie, and John Campos. Among the charges laid against the group are “conspiracy to violate unlawful internet gambling enforcement act” and “conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud.” Maximum penalties for the former charge are 30 years in prison plus a fine of $1,000,000, or twice the gross gain and loss from the laundering operation.
The Manhattan District Attorney claims that the poker sites paid payment processors to act as middlemen between the gambling sites and U.S. banks. These payment processors — including four of the defendants — would set up seemingly legitimate shell companies on behalf of the gambling sites in order to open bank accounts. If that failed, some payment processors would offer to ‘invest’ in fledgling local banks, in exchange for the bank’s facilitating gambling transactions. The poker sites would thus process deposits and withdrawals from American players via these shell companies and under-the-radar banks.
The Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI, Janice K. Fedarcyk, claims that the defendants “tried to stack the deck. They lied to banks about the true nature of their business.” It’s on the back of these claims that, it seems, the house of cards must now fall.
As a result of this, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Cereus (AP/UB) have banned Americans from sitting in at real money tables. As of right now, Americans can still open the sites’ poker software and click around, however U.S. resident attempting to sit in at a table will be met with a “restricted due to Government regulations” popup, and will immediately be removed from the game.
The status of cashouts is unclear at all four poker sites. Some players have reported successful bank wire transfers, others have repeatedly had cashout attempts declined, and others still have been frozen entirely out of the Full Tilt cashier window. Since over 75 “payment processors” have been shut down by the DOJ since the UIGEA came into play, it is unlikely that the sites will be able to legitimately process payments to U.S. players.