Reliable sources have informed Holdem Poker Chat that PokerStars has finalized a deal with The Department of Justice to take over the assets of Full Tilt Poker. Details remain elusive but the happy news for poker players is that any deal with the DoJ always had to include the return of funds stuck on the defunct Full Tilt Poker.
The waiting game has begun, but we have never been this close to players getting paid, and at long last there is real hope. To quote Sir Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
UPDATE: It’s now official http://www.pokerstarsblog.com/corporate_blog/2012/pokerstars-settles-with-united-states-doj-096492.html
The name Chad Elie may not be the most well-known name in the online poker world out there, but it’s one that had a huge part of the online gambling indictments that came down on eleven men after Black Friday last year. Elie had nine charges against him, and he has officially decided to plead guilty to one of the nine and by doing so will avoid having to go to trial for anything that is up against him. Elie worked with the popular online poker sites that were hit by Black Friday such as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker as one of the payment processors for them.
Basically what happened was that Elie opened up multiple bank accounts in the United States and used them to get payments from United States poker players while working with the popular poker sites. He was up for charges that included violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), operating an illegal gambling business, and engaging in money laundering. All in all, he could have been looking at multiple years in jail, but his decision to plead guilty means that he not only avoids standing trial on April 9th, but also that he get a solid plea deal.
The deal that was worked out and that will be handed down from the judge will be for between six and twelve months, which is good considering that the maximum for the charge that he plead guilty to (a single count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud) could be up to five years in jail. Along with the jail time he will have to pay $500k, and he is currently out on $250k bond, but will need to go back on October 3rd for his sentencing.
John Campos is another name that was paired up with Elie, as he apparently accepted an investment to work with Elie and process payments through his bank (SunFirst Bank in Utah). Campos is the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, and also the part owner of the bank as well. He has yet to accept a similar plea deal, but the rumors going around are that he will most likely accept a deal like the one that Elie took.
As the online poker world gets ready to solemnly remember Black Friday, Americas Cardroom is giving everyone a major reason to celebrate. On April 15th, the US-friendly online poker site will introduce the Liberty Quarter Million, a No-Limit Hold’em online poker tournament with a guaranteed prize pool of $250,000. The first place prize is guaranteed at least $50,000.
“April 15th will go down in history as a day that we’ll never forget, but this time it’ll be because of something incredible,” stated Michael Harris, an America’s Cardroom spokesman. “We’ve been growing our online poker community over the last year by leaps and bounds, and we’re excited to celebrate poker freedom with all our players by putting $500,000 on the table over five weekends.”
The Liberty Quarter Million tournament is part of Liberty Weekends, where $500,000 will be spread out over two big online poker tournaments every weekend between March 31st and April 29th. The Sunday tournaments are Re-Entry tournaments with a 3 hours late registration. That means if a player is eliminated from the tournament while registration is still open, they’ll have the option to buy back in as a new player.
On Saturdays at 7:00pm ET, Americas Cardroom hosts a $10,000 GTD with a $50+5 buy-in. On Sundays at 6:00pm ET, the guarantee hits $50,000 and costs just $200+15 to get into. Both weekend tournaments offer players 10,000 in starting chips.
For those players looking to satellite their way in, on April 13th at 8:00pm ET Americas Cardroom will be hosting a 250 Seat Super Satellite with 250 seats guaranteed for the April 15th Quarter Million Tournament. The 250 Seat Super Satellite will cost only $36+3 to get into.
The $50,000 and $250,000 GTD tournaments offer a familiar blind structure and buy-in to US players who were victimized by Black Friday’s events, a signal that Americas Cardroom means business about becoming the #1 destination for online poker in the US.
Liberty Weekends kicks off on Saturday, March 31st, 2012. Full details on Americas Cardroom’s satellite structure for all 10 Liberty Weekends tournaments can be found at AmericasCardroom.
The latest rumors about embattled Full Tilt Poker and their fall from grace had unknown European investors set to buy up the beleaguered franchise. Now ERG Magazine is reporting that those investors are only interested in certain UK and Ireland based parts of the company. The word is that they want nothing to do with anything facing the United States.
Many industry watchers think that such a deal has very little chance of being completed in time for the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC) hearing slated to take place in London on Thursday July 28, 2011. Most believe that Full Tilt Poker will not be allowed to restart operations with their AGCC License without some sort of financial deal in place by that time.
Whether or not a deal for just some of the assets does take place, will non-US players return to the brand if they do not see US player balances being paid?
The last week of June wasn’t just the end of the ’10-’11 Fiscal Year. It was also the official end of Full Tilt Poker. A descent that started on April 15 of this year, thereafter considered by the online poker world to be Black Friday, ended last week when Full Tilt Poker closed its doors, in all probability for good.
To be clear on this FullTiltPoker.com was already closed to US players after Black Friday. But now, as of a week ago, Full Tilt Poker is closed to everyone, no matter where in the world they may live. The action to close Full Tilt Poker’s international operations last Wednesday, June 29, 2011, was taken by British Channel Island regulators.
Full Tilt Poker has yet to pay back some $150 million in American player funds frozen along with the rest of Full Tilt’s American assets. And now, they stand to owe millions more to their players left high and dry in the rest of the world. FTP is attempting to raise the funds needed to issue all these necessary (and overdue) refunds by selling majority ownership stake in the Irish parent company of Full Tilt Poker, Pocket Kings to Europan investors.
The US Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, is still said to be seeking around $3 billion in damages from Full Tilt Poker and the other two poker sites named in Black Friday’s seizure, Poker Stars and Absolute Poker. Poker Stars, incidentally, has paid back all $120 million it owed to its American players ousted in the shutdown of their American operations, while Absolute Poker has yet to pay back a dime of American player funds since that dark day in online poker history.
If you’re sitting there scratching your head like we were about how the FBI could have built its case strongly enough to get the DOJ to issue those warrants that forced the shutdown of three of the biggest poker sites on the Internet, here’s how: an insider ratted them out. That is, an individual engaging in illegal online gambling entrepreneurial activity himself cut a deal with US authorities to save his own rear from the frying pan by helping to bring down bigger fish than he.
The “he” in question is one Daniel Tzvetkoff, and the more you find out about this guy, the less you like him. He and a partner created Instabill which, as you might now, is one of the payment processors that helps arrange financial transactions between the online gambling sites and its players, including U.S. players – a big no-no according to Uncle Sam.
Apparently (or “allegedly” as we’re supposed to say) Tzvetkoff laundered some $540 million through Instabill: money that was supposed to go to Full Tilt Poker, Poker Stars and Absolute Poker but ended up going into his pocket. Living high on the hog on his clients’ money, it only makes sense they went ahead and sued him.
Arrested in New York in 2008 while attending a conference, Tzvetkoff began worming his way out of his legal hole then by, it seems, turning the tables on those very sites, in essence biting the hand that had stopped feeding him once they realized he’d already bitten a chunk out of them before.
The upshot (call it payback, call it irony) is that Tzvetkoff still faces charges with a penalty of up to 75 years in prison in his own native Australia if they can just get our hands off him and theirs on him.
Bradley Franzen, one of the 11 people charged last month in the case that shut down U.S. operations for Pokerstars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, pleaded guilty Monday in Manhattan federal court, admitting he illegally helped link gambling companies with banks to process millions of dollars.
The charges that he pleaded guilty to were: conspiracy to commit bank fraud; accepting funds in connection with illegal gambling; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Franzen said he was contacted in 2009 at his Costa Rica home by an Internet poker company owner who wanted to process checks online. He said he agreed to link online poker companies with banks even though he knew it was illegal.
April 15, 2011 will forever be known in the online poker world as Black Friday. It was on this day that the US Department of Justice seized the American domains of the three largest online poker rooms, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. This put an end to millions of players wagering at these sites. Poker has moved from being a mere source of entertainment to a professional occupation that enables persons to earn a livelihood. In the last few years with the woes of the economic downturn many persons have relied only on playing poker at online sites for the roof above their heads and the bread on the table. In one stroke this was snatched away on Black Friday.
Poker Players Alliance is a body that is lobbying for legalization and regulation of online poker in the United States. After Black Friday, John Pappas its executive director revealed some very pertinent figures. He said 8 million to 10 million Americans play poker online for money. About 50,000 claim to be full-time, professional online poker players, while an inestimable number use online poker to supplement income from day jobs. The three online poker sites that were shut down on Black Friday catered to roughly 70% of the American online poker market.
Hence it is easy to realize that there has been a massive loss of poker income on account of these sites being forced to shut down. There are two types of online poker players that are most affected. One is the player whose substantial savings were lying as deposits at these online poker rooms. PokerStars has initiated the process of refunding the deposits and others will follow, but this will take time. Meanwhile money locked up at the poker sites is money lost. It cannot be mobilized to create other income, not even to play poker at land casinos. One such sad tale is that of Ziethlow. He now sings for donations outside casinos to earn a fraction of what he earlier did.
The other type of online poker player who is badly affected is the one who is physically challenged and hence has little other opportunity for earning a living. ESPN did a story on Brian Ford after Black Friday. Brian is confined to a wheelchair because of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. His work of doing data entry dried up in 2008. Since then he has been surviving on online poker. Online poker has given Ford more than an income. It has given him income with the comfort of anonymity. Now both are lost. It’s estimated that thousands of disabled Americans play online poker daily to supplement their meager disability income.
Loss of income to poker players is the direct fallout of Black Friday. There is considerable collateral damage as well. The closure of these online poker sites will lead to job losses there. Absolute Poker employees in Costa Rica are already beginning to feel the heat. Then there is the poker training industry consisting of poker software, poker books and online classes. There are agents who represent players in getting them the best sponsorship deals. With income to the poker sites drying up, their sponsorship activities will take a hit and affect the representation business as well.
It’s been 2 weeks since the online poker world was shocked by the indictments handed down by the US DoJ on four of the largest online poker sites in the world. Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker immediately stopped allowing US players to play for real money on their websites. Absolute Poker and UB seem to have decided to ignore the DoJ and continue on almost as if nothing happened. Players on Absolute Poker and UB cannot, however, deposit or cashout at the moment.
Much has happened in the last two weeks. Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker have regained the use of their .com domains to facilitate cash outs for US based players. Pokerstars surprised many this week as they began cash outs for US players. Some have already received their bank direct transfers. Given the circumstances this is quite fast. Pokerstars still does not know how it will pay out FPP’s. Tournament Dollars and tickets are being converted into cash at 100%.
Full Tilt Poker on the other hand is having major banking issues not only for it’s US based poker players but also for Non US players. Many European Full Tilt Poker players have been waiting well over a week for Moneybookers and Neteller withdrawals and some have even questioned if Full Tilt Poker is now bankrupt. Full Tilt Poker has issued a statement claiming that they are “Not Bankrupt”.
Meanwhile smaller poker sites have seen tremendous growth over the last couple of weeks. The Merge Poker Network with includes such poker sites as Lock Poker and Carbon Poker have led the way and even climbed into a top 10 position overall for global poker traffic. Bodog Poker is not far behind as they too have experienced growth. All in all, any poker site still accepting US players has had a spike in traffic.
The crackdown of Pokerstars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker and UB on Black Friday took the favorite pastime away from millions of American poker players. Other poker sites such as Lock Poker, Bodog and Cake Poker are working around the clock to provide all US players with a new home. They are doing a great job, most of the casual players are happy to play at those sites. Some things are different though, the choice in games offered is lower and the waiting time for some sit and go formats is a bit longer. Does this mean the DoJ actions didn’t have an impact on the US poker players? No, there is a group of players which found itself in serious trouble: the online poker pro.
When we think of poker pro’s we usually picture the high profile players who we see on tv shows like High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark or the Big Game. These pro’s represent the big sites, live the good life and make millions in the process. There is however another complete different order of poker pro’s and they aren’t nearly as visible and high profile as the established pro’s like Doyle Brunson, Tom Dwan or Daniel Negreanu.
These online poker pro’s make their living playing or teaching online poker and they don’t make millions. Instead, they grind out the cash tables and sit and goes all day and most of them make only a modest salary. On top of that, grinding online poker can be a very stressful job. Playing poker is probably the only job in the world where you can end the day with less money then you started with. Variance is the one thing you can’t use when you are depending on your play to pay the rent. Variance is the enemy to the online pro and to limit it they play as many tables as they can, sometimes up to 24 tables.
Suddenly unable to play at the Big Three, they are in serious trouble now. Because they can no longer play the amount of games they used to, they don’t make enough money anymore to pay their rent. Some of these players played professionally for years and have considerable gaps in their resume’s, others decided to drop out of college to play poker full time. Their options are limited: Finding a job in the current economy is very hard, they can’t wait until the US regulates online poker and they also don’t have the time to wait until other sites and networks offer the games they need. On top of that their entire bankroll is currently frozen and they can’t touch it. This bankroll is not only money for them, they need it to make money, it is their livelihood.
Moving abroad has become a viable option for them and a lot of grinders are looking into that option now. Canada is the favorite haven to play followed by Malta. The UK is also amongst the top destinations because online winnings aren’t taxed there. The short term goal for the movers is to regain access to their frozen funds. For the long term they can keep playing at their favorite sites abroad until the US has figured their legislation out. The DoJ’s actions of Black Friday really had an impact on these people that nobody ever anticipated.
Is this a bad thing for poker? Not really. With a lot of these mass tabling grinders out of the way the game becomes more fun again. No longer waiting for the guy who plays more tables then he can handle to finally act and less grinders in the sit and goes means the casual player will most certainly see his ROI improve. People wondered when the next poker boom would be after the Moneymaker boom in 2004. Well, this might be it.