The announcement the poker world awaited on Monday finally came to fruition on Tuesday as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the US Department of Justice announced they had reached an agreement that would see Full Tilt and PokerStars settle their civil suits and at the same time see PokerStars acquire the assets of their one-time rival Full Tilt Poker.
The announcements came in a series of press releases in the early afternoon hours Tuesday, first Full Tilt Poker, followed by PokerStars, and finally the Southern District of New York Attorney’s Office on behalf of the DOJ.
The press releases answer most of the questions players have been concerned with, and the remaining unanswered questions will likely have to wait days, maybe weeks, to be answered. Here is a look at the three Press releases that had the poker world cheering, celebrating, and likely crying with joy:
Department of Justice Press Release:
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces $731 Million Settlement Of Money Laundering And Forfeiture Complaint With Pokerstars And Full Tilt Poker
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday July 31, 2012
Settlement Requires PokerStars to Forfeit $547 Million and Full Tilt to Forfeit Virtually All of Its Assets
Funds to Be Made Available for Compensation to U.S. and Foreign Victims
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has entered into settlement agreements with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker – two of three online poker companies sued by the U.S. in a money laundering and forfeiture complaint that was originally filed in April 2011 – that were approved today by U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand. Under the terms of the settlement with Full Tilt Poker (“Full Tilt”), the company agreed to forfeit virtually all of its assets (the “Forfeited Full Tilt Assets”) to the U.S. to fully resolve the charges in the complaint. Under the terms of the settlement with PokerStars, the company agreed to forfeit $547 Million to the U.S. and to reimburse the approximately $184 million owed by Full Tilt to foreign players, in order to fully resolve the allegations in the complaint. The settlement further provides that PokerStars will acquire the Forfeited Full Tilt Assets from the Government. Full Tilt’s U.S. fraud victims will be able to seek compensation for their losses from the Department of Justice from the $547 million forfeited by PokerStars.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “We are pleased to announce these settlements by Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, which allow us to quickly get significant compensation into the victim players’ hands. Today’s settlements demonstrate that if you engage in conduct that violates the laws of the United States, as we alleged in this case, then even if you are doing so from across the ocean, you will have to answer for that conduct and turn over your ill-gotten gains.”
Under the terms of the settlement with Full Tilt, U.S. victims of the company’s alleged fraud will be able to seek compensation from the Department of Justice (“DOJ”). The funds that will be used to compensate qualifying victims will come from the $547 million that will be forfeited by PokerStars as part of its settlement with the Government.
In addition to forfeiting $547 million to the U.S., under the terms of the settlement with PokerStars, the company must make available to foreign players all balances that were held in the Full Tilt accounts within 90 days; the amount of those balances is approximately $184 million. Pokerstars will also acquire the Forfeited Full Tilt Assets from the Government.
PokerStars’ acquisition of the Forfeited Full Tilt Assets will be complete upon the Government’s receipt of a $225 million payment from PokerStars, which must take place within six days of the entrance of today’s settlement.
Additional terms of the PokerStars settlement include:
- Within 45 days of the acquisition of the Forfeited Full Tilt Assets, Isai Scheinberg, who is presently under indictment in a related criminal case, shall not serve in any management or director role at PokerStars. This provision is subject to re-evaluation by the parties upon the resolution of the criminal case.
- PokerStars is also prohibited from employing, or otherwise hiring, Full Tilt Poker insiders Raymond Bitar, Howard Lederer, Rafael Furst, Chris Ferguson, and Nelson Burtnick. Bitar and Burtnick are also named as defendants in a related criminal Indictment. Bitar, Lederer, Furst, and Ferguson are named as civil money-laundering defendants in this complaint.
- PokerStars is prohibited from offering online poker in the U.S. for real money unless and until it is legal to do so under U.S. law.
- The Government will maintain a portion of the $547 million forfeited by PokerStars as a substitute for the forfeited Full Tilt assets to cover the litigation of claims by other parties asserting interests in the Forfeited Full Tilt Assets.
The settlements entered today with regard to Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, and the proposed settlement with regard to Absolute Poker, do not constitute admissions of any wrongdoing, culpability, liability, or guilt by any parties. Under the terms of a “domain name use” agreement entered into between PokerStars and the Government on April 20, 2011, the company previously settled its accounts with U.S. players.
In a related matter, the U.S. Attorney’s office also filed a motion requesting that the Court enter a settlement agreement reached with Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet that requires the company to forfeit all of its assets (the “Absolute Assets”) in order to fully resolve this action. The motion also requests that the Government be permitted to liquidate the Absolute Assets, with the net proceeds of that sale to be held pending the resolution of claims filed by other parties who have asserted an ownership interest in the Absolute Assets.
The following allegations are based on the Amended Civil Forfeiture Complaint filed in September and the Indictments returned in the related criminal action:
On October 13, 2006, the United States enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“UIGEA”), making it a federal crime for gambling businesses to “knowingly accept” most forms of payment “in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.” Despite the passage of the UIGEA, Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet (“the Poker Companies”), each located offshore, continued operating in the United States. Because U.S. banks and credit card issuers were largely unwilling to process their payments, the Poker Companies allegedly used fraudulent methods to circumvent federal law and deceive these financial institutions into processing payments on their behalf. For example, the Poker Companies arranged for the money received from U.S. gamblers to be disguised as payments to hundreds of non-existent online merchants purporting to sell merchandise such as jewelry and golf balls. Of the billions of dollars in payment transactions that the Poker Companies deceived U.S. banks into processing, approximately one-third or more of the funds went directly to the Poker Companies as revenue through the “rake” charged to players on almost every poker hand played online.
To accomplish their fraud, the Poker Companies worked with an array of highly compensated “payment processors” who obtained accounts at U. S. banks for the Poker Companies. The payment processors lied to banks about the nature of the financial transactions they were processing, and covered up those lies, by, among other things, creating phony corporations and websites to disguise payments to the Poker Companies. For example, a PokerStars document from May 2009 acknowledged that they received money from U.S. gamblers through company names that “strongly imply the transaction has nothing to do with PokerStars,” and that PokerStars used whatever company names “the processor can get approved by the bank.”
Full Tilt Poker further defrauded players by misrepresenting that player funds on deposit in online gambling accounts were safe, secure, and available for withdrawal at any time. In reality, the company did not maintain funds sufficient to repay all players, and instead, utilized players’ funds to distribute more than $400 million to Full Tilt’s owners. By March 31, 2011, two weeks before the initial complaint in this action was unsealed, Full Tilt Poker owed approximately $390 million to players around the world, including approximately $160 million to players in the United States. At that time, Full Tilt Poker had only approximately $60 million on deposit in its bank accounts. Full Tilt Poker’s scheme continued even after the civil forfeiture action commenced and the related criminal Indictment was unsealed in April 2011. Full Tilt Poker continued accepting foreign player funds despite the fact that it had liabilities to players around the world for over $300 million, yet held only a small fraction of that amount in its bank accounts.
Eleven defendants were charged criminally in connection with the original Internet poker Indictment, seven of whom have been arrested. The defendants who have been arrested are: Raymond Bitar; Bradley Franzen; Ryan Lang; Ira Rubin; Brent Beckley; Chad Elie; and John Campos. All of the seven defendants except Bitar have each pled guilty and await sentencing with the exception of Campos, who was sentenced in June 2012 to three months in prison. Charges are still pending against the remaining four defendants – Nelson Burtnick, Isai Scheinberg, Paul Tate, and Scott Tom who remain at large. The charges and accusations against them are allegations and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara praised the FBI for its outstanding leadership in the investigation, which he noted is ongoing.
This matter is being handled by the Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant U. S. Attorneys Sharon Cohen Levin, Michael Lockard, Jason Cowley, and Andrew Goldstein are in charge of the civil money laundering and forfeiture action. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Arlo Devlin-Brown, Nicole Friedlander and Niketh Velamoor are in charge of the criminal case.
PokerStars Press Release
POKERSTARS SETTLES DISPUTE WITH U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AND ACQUIRES ASSETS OF FULL TILT POKER
ONCHAN, ISLE OF MAN – July 31, 2012 – PokerStars today announced that the Company has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Southern District of New York. As part of the settlement agreement, PokerStars has also acquired the assets of Full Tilt Poker, and has committed to the full reimbursement of Full Tilt Poker customers outside the United States.
The total amount to be paid by PokerStars is USD$547 million which will be payable over a period of three years. The money paid to the US Government will in part be used to reimburse former Full Tilt Poker customers in the United States, through a remission process to be administered by the Department of Justice. PokerStars repaid all amounts owing to its own U.S. customers shortly after it closed its U.S. operations.
PokerStars will also make available in a segregated bank account, all outstanding balances owing to all non-U.S. customers of Full Tilt Poker (an amount totalling USD$184 million), with no restrictions on withdrawals, within 90 days of completing this transaction. PokerStars has remained open for non-U.S. players, with all its licenses in good standing, without interruptions.
Under the agreement with the Department of Justice, PokerStars does not admit to any wrongdoing. Furthermore, the agreement explicitly permits PokerStars to apply to relevant U.S. gaming authorities, under both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker brands, to offer real money online poker when State or Federal governments introduce a framework to regulate such activity.
PokerStars plans to re-launch Full Tilt Poker in most markets as a separate brand, following the appointment of a new, independent management team. Full Tilt Poker’s operations will continue to be run from Dublin, but regulatory oversight will be transferred to the Isle of Man. Further details of these plans will be announced shortly.
“We are delighted we have been able to put this matter behind us, and also secured our ability to operate in the United States of America whenever the regulations allow,” said Mark Scheinberg, Chairman of the Board of PokerStars. “This outcome demonstrates our continuing global leadership of the online poker industry, and our commitment to working with governments and regulators to ensure the highest standards of protection for players.”
“Acquiring certain assets of Full Tilt Poker strengthens PokerStars, brings welcome relief to Full Tilt Poker players who have been waiting over 12 months for repayment of their money, and benefits the entire poker community. Full Tilt Poker’s customers outside the U.S. can soon look forward to accessing their accounts and playing on the re-launched site, confident that they are supported by PokerStars’ history of integrity and our track record of delivering high-quality and secure online poker.”
“The way we have operated our business since the U.S. Department of Justice brought its claim has underlined our credentials as a responsible online poker operator,” Scheinberg continued. “In particular, the prompt repayment of our former US customers in as quick a time frame as possible demonstrated our industry-leading commitment to the segregation of customer funds. We continue to encourage jurisdictions all over the world to introduce sensible online poker regulation.”
Full Tilt Poker Press Release
FULL TILT POKER CONCLUDES TRANSACTION WITH POKERSTARS AND UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Agreement Ends Civil Forfeiture Proceedings and Includes Payment For All Players
Dublin – July 31, 2012 – Full Tilt Poker is very pleased to announce the conclusion of a three-way transaction with PokerStars and the United States Department of Justice which will result in all of FTP’s US players having the opportunity to be paid. The agreement ends the company’s civil forfeiture proceedings with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Under the terms of the agreement, PokerStars will pay a substantial amount of money to the United States, and the government has agreed that all U.S. players will have an opportunity to request that they be compensated out of those funds for their losses. In addition, within ninety days PokerStars will make available for immediate cash withdrawal or play, the account balances for all of Full Tilt Poker’s non-U.S. players.
Full Tilt Poker apologizes to all of its customers who endured a long and difficult period wondering whether this day would ever come.
Full Tilt Poker expresses its appreciation to its loyal employees whose hard work over the last 15 months preserved the value of the Full Tilt Poker assets so a deal like this could be possible, and to PokerStars and the United States Department of Justice for their efforts in bringing about this resolution.
Jeff Ifrah of Ifrah Law PLLC, (Washington, D.C.) Barry Boss and Anne Madonia of Cozen O’Connor (Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, PA respectively), Tony Coles and Charles Gerada of Jeffrey Green Russell Solicitors (London), and Tony O’Grady of Matheson Ormsby Prentice (Dublin) represented the affiliated companies that owned and operated Full Tilt .
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