The online poker world is still reeling from the shock news that last week the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) seized the domain names of the USA’s four leading poker sites: PokerStars.com, FullTiltPoker.com, AbsolutePoker.com and UltimateBet.com… And that shortly after the seizure, the poker sites shut down their tables to any player with an account registered at a United States address.
Eleven individuals, including the poker sites’ owners and others linked to the sites’ payment processing organisations, have been charged with gambling-related offences, the Manhattan US Attorney’s office announced in their press release.
“These defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some US banks and effectively bribing others,” Manhattan US Attorney Pret Bharara explained. He further alleged: “The defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud.”
In 2006, the US Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement act, making it illegal for anyone to facilitate gambling transactions in the United States — effectively barring its citizens from any online gambling activity, not just poker.
To get round the act, the poker sites hired payment processing ‘specialists’ tasked with setting up shell companies. What these then did is open accounts at US banks and, ‘under the radar’, pass takings from online poker sites through them.
The Manhattan US Attorney claims that further to deceiving banks into opening accounts, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, along with their payment processors “Persuaded the principals of a few small, local banks facing financial difficulties to engage in processing in return for multi-million dollar investments in the banks.”
In effect, the poker sites had payment processors bribe struggling financial institutions, the purpose being to assist withdrawals and payouts to US-based players, in breach of US law. The FBI had more than 75 bank accounts linked to the alleged payment processors frozen.
If convicted, some of the accused poker site executives might have to spend as many as 30 years in jail and cough up a million-dollar fine for good measure.
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