The Poker Players Alliance just posted a guide to what poker players might try, to get their money back from Full-Tilt, Absolute and the other operators who won’t, or can’t, return deposits. Although I don’t agree with everything the PPA’s say – for example, I think many U.S. courts would throw out claims by players as debts associated with gambling – they raise the important and immediate point: If you are going to file a claim for part of the millions of dollars seized by the U.S. federal government in bank accounts around the world on April 15th, you only have until July 15, 2011.
The paper is: “The Legal Rights of Players with Unpaid Account Balances – A PPA Information Guide” at http://www.scribd.com/doc/59876348/PPA-Players-Funds-Legal-Guide. The PPA even included the claim form. It’s the last two pages of the paper.
You don’t need a lawyer to file, but you should get one. The PPA’s lawyers were worried that a player might be hit with fines if the court decides the claims are frivolous. I’m more concerned that you have to file the claim form under oath, swearing that you have an ownership interest in an account you may not have even known existed. Perjury is a real crime, with real penalties. And both I and the PPA attorneys agree that the additional papers you will have to file within 21 day after filing the claim form, should be written by a lawyer.
The reason you might have the right to file a claim is that the Department of Justice decided that at least some of the bank accounts would be seized under what is known as a civil forfeiture. Criminal cases are limited to the government and the defendants. Civil cases involving the seizure of the poker operators’ and payment processors’ bank accounts are open to anyone who has a good faith claim on the money.
But there is a tight time limit. The DoJ published its notice of intent to seize the online poker funds on May 16, 2011. Claimants have only 60 days to file their verified (meaning under oath) claim with the U.S. District Court Clerk in Manhattan; that means before the end of the day on Friday, July 15, 2011. You can file electronically.
Extensions are possible, but they would require either getting a court order or an agreement with the prosecutors. In fact, the PokerStars companies, Absolute and Full-Tilt all were given until September 30, 2011, to file their claims. But I doubt either the DoJ or federal Judge Leonard B. Sand would agree to give more time to a mere player.
Some claims have already been filed. The first was by Chad Elie, who claims an ownership or possessory interest in a third of the accounts seized. Chad is the Las Vegas defendant who married former Playmate Destiny Davis the day after he was arrested in connection with Black Friday. He is out on $250,000 bail.
Other claims have been filed. The second was by LST Financial, Inc., which calls itself “a full-service, third-party financial processor and service bureau.” It is claiming an interest in five bank accounts in Texas and North Carolina seized from Four Oaks Bank and Trust. MAS, Inc., claims money seized from Hawaii National Bank. And, Ultra Safe Pay says it is the owner of the funds seized from Umpqua Bank in Roseburg, Oregon.
Should you file a claim? You probably don’t have much chance of success, unless you have a communication that mentions one of the bank accounts listed in the Complaint. They are on the pages immediately preceding the claim form in the PPA paper. You want to find a name or number that matches an email from a payment processor or online poker operator.
Even then, there are some risks. I don’t think the judge would punish a player if the claim failed. But the DoJ will now have your name and identifying information. There is no federal crime against playing poker online. But you can be sure that if you are claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars that you will have your taxes audited.
Republished with permission © Copyright 2011, I. Nelson Rose, Prof. Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law, and is a consultant and expert witness for governments and industry. His latest books, Internet Gaming Law (1st and 2nd editions), Blackjack and the Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials, are available through his website, www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com.