An agreement has been reached in the U.S. between the Department of Justice and online poker rooms PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. Both had their domain names seized last week, during what has become known in the poker community as “Black Friday.” However, both have had their primary domain names returned; Pokerstars.eu is now reverted back to Pokerstars.com, while FullTiltPoker.com has been brought back online. Since Friday, whenever a player logged onto either of these sites they were met with a message saying the domain had been seized by the FBI. Absolute Poker and UltimateBet.com remain closed pending further investigation.
U.S players are still blocked from participating in cash games online or from transferring funds. However, players are assured that their money is safe. The Department of Justice released a statement declaring that “each implicated poker company has at all times been free to reimburse players’ deposited funds… this Office expects the companies to return the money that US players entrusted to them.”
Full Tilt also released an official statement, which read:
Full Tilt Poker is pleased to announce that it has reached an agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to regain the use of its worldwide domain name, www.fulltiltpoker.com.
Although players in the United States will not be permitted to engage in real-money play, the agreement expressly allows for real-money play outside of the United States.
In addition, the agreement represents an important first step towards returning funds to U.S. players because it allows Full Tilt Poker to utilize its domain to facilitate the withdrawal of player funds. But, unfortunately, there remain significant practical and legal impediments to returning funds to players in the immediate future. As a result of the recent enforcement action, there exists no authorized U.S. payment channel through which to make refunds; Full Tilt Poker has no accounting of the millions of dollars of player funds that were seized by the government; and the government has not agreed to permit any of the seized player funds to be returned to the players.
Finally, there are numerous legal and jurisdictional issues that must be considered before poker winnings can be paid out to players throughout the United States. While Full Tilt Poker continues to believe that online poker is not illegal under federal law or in 49 states, the indictment and civil forfeiture action filed last Friday require Full Tilt Poker to proceed with caution in this area.
Notwithstanding these issues, Full Tilt Poker is ready to work diligently with the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York to try and resolve these issues and to get players their money back as soon as possible.
The press releases from Full Tilt Poker and the United states Department of Justice seem to directly contradict each other (each blames the delay in the return of player funds on the other). However, with any luck it represents the first step, not only in returning millions of dollars worth of winnings to the players themselves, but resolving online poker in the States once and for all.