April 15, 2011 has become one of the “where were you when” moments of poker.
Seemingly just another day, players instead woke up to DOJ seizure notices on the big three websites available to US players – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute/UB.
Panic immediately took hold with players scrambling for information.
Shortly after a statement was released explaining that 11 defendants had been charged with band fraud and money laundering including PokerStars' Isai Scheinberg, Fill Tilt Poker's Ray Bitar and Absolute Poker's Scott Tom:
"As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
"Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud.
"Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits.”
Suddenly PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute/UB were cut off from the massive U.S. online poker market.
Domains Moved to .eu, Payment Schedule Agreed to with DOJ
The poker rooms immediately responded by switching their domain names to .eu and continuing to cater to players from the rest of the world.
All three poker rooms also issued statements that essentially saidthe same thing: sorry for the inconvenience, but everything's OK and U.S. players will be paid back shortly.
A section of Full Tilt’s statement would come to look ridiculous in the following months:
“In light of recent events involving the freezing of certain accounts, Full Tilt Poker would like to assure all players that their funds remain safe and secure. Processing of both deposit and withdrawal requests is proceeding as normal and is still available to all of our players.”
It turned out that was a straight up lie.
PokerStars Pays Back Quickly, FTP and AP/UB Drag Feet
On the other hand, PokerStars quickly arranged a dela with the DOJ to release its .com domain name and began paying back U.S. players immediately. Thanks to PokerStars' heavy presence in Europe, it also continued to generate profit.
Both Full Tilt and UB/Absolute Poker weren’t so quick to pay back players, despite similar deals with the DOJ to release their domain names back.
It was later revealed that phantom deposits coupled with money seizures had left FTP with no way of paying back players. Even worse, massive shareholder distribution payments continued while money was not coming in. Money was also still being accepted from players around the world, despite the FTP inner circle knowing it was going into a black hole.
The company behind AP/UB, Blanca Games, was simultaneously filing for bankruptcy. Blanca Games released a statement that refuted that claim but did say it was clearing house and re-hiring 20% of personnel in key positions.
AP/UB has yet to pay back its U.S. players and there has been no communication about doing so in the last nine months.
FTP PR disasters, Ivey Lawsuit
Full Tilt came under fire for going silent after Black Friday and not keeping its players apprised of the situation.
Things went from bad to worse on the first day of the 2011 WSOP when Phil Ivey dropped a bombshell on the poker world saying he would boycott the entire Series to stand in solidarity with FTP players who had money stuck on the site and were unable to play the live tournament series.
He also announced he was suing his former sponsor.
Tiltware released a short response that said the Ivey statement was “meritless” and he was only thinking of himself.
Ivey would later withdraw his lawsuit against FTP, but true to his word he boycotted the entire 2011 WSOP.
In September 2011 the Alderney Gambling Commission revoked Full Tilt’s license after a six-day hearing. No one has played on the site since.
In the Fall of 2011, the DOJ added Howard Lederer, Rafe Furst, Chris Ferguson to the DOJ's list of targets and erroneously declared the entire operation a “Ponzi scheme.”
One year removed from the events of Black Friday, the status of online poker around the world is still, to some extent, in limbo.
Full Tilt players have yet to be paid although a potential deal with the Bernard Tapie Group that would see players get their funds back is rumored to be close.
Issues of legality and taxation linger in virtually every country with a variety of implementations across the world.
In France and Italy, access is restricted to licensed companies and limited games. Player pools are also exclusively in-country.
Germany, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia – all are to some degree battling with the next step for poker legislation.
The UK continues to be at the forefront of online poker legalization and encourages poker sites to base their headquarters in the country.
Australia and Canada have essentially avoided tackling poker legislation and citizens can play on whatever site they choose.
While it’s still possible to log in and play from virtually every country in the world, the largest market, the United States remains virtually off limits.
While some smaller skins on the Merge network are still accepting US players, it’s essentially a no-fly zone for online poker rooms.
Rumors continue to circulate that the U.S. will legalize and regulate online poker but as of April 13, 2012, U.S. poker players are still out of luck.
For more information be sure to check our Black Friday bulletin board.
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