The past year and a half have been a rough year for poker players, especially those from the United States. Many online poker rooms have met their demise through the hands of the Department Of Justice, left the US market on their own, or were out forced out of business.
In this article, we will take a look at the sites that have fallen out of favor with players within the past year, especially in regards to players in the United States. Most of these rooms failed or defaulted due to US Department of Justice seizures or indictments. Covered are the key situations over the past year, the factors contributing to each site and the prospects of the players getting paid.
Full Tilt Poker’s Demise (and Possible Future “Uprising?”)
Full Tilt Poker was one of the two “big boys” to get taken down by the April 15th, 2011 indictments. The New York District Attorney’s office froze many of Full Tilt’s bank accounts indicted its owners. Raymond Bitar and Nelson Burtnick were both indicted as owners of Tiltware and facilitating payment processes.
Shortly after the indictment, the Feds allowed the rooms to gain control of their .com’s again, and begin to pay US players their balances. By this point, all real money play had been suspended. PokerStars immediately started to pay players, and within a few weeks of Black Friday all players were repaid in full.
The story was quite different with Full Tilt Poker. They had yet to pay any players, but the company was still actively taking deposits from international players. Full Tilt released a statement on May 15, 2011 that progress was being made to return funds to US citizens. Just over a month and a half later the Alderney Gaming Commission revoked Full Tilt’s license and all real money play came to a halt.
The next few months were full of half truths and promises by Full Tilt Poker to get funds back to the players. The combined total of funds for both US and international players was about $300 million dollars. In late September of 2011, the US attorney’s office reported that FTP was a massive ponzi scheme. It alleged that FTP skimmed money off player deposits and did not have the cash on hand to facilitate withdrawals. Though, FTP denied they were a ponzi scheme as alleged by the District Attorney. They were broke and blamed the US government for the inability to pay players. At this point, the public began to realize this was not true and that the money was gone.
FTP soon began looking for financial help, with the DOJ being an intermediary for negotiations with potential buyers. The French investing group, Groupe Bernard Tapie emerged as a buyer. On September 30th, 2011 Tapie signed a preliminary agreement to acquire FTP. Details emerge regarding the Tapie deal; GBT was to pay the Department of Justice 80 million for the acquisition and would assume the role of paying players worldwide. The DOJ would take care of payouts for American players.
The deal seemed to be held up for months as Laurent Tapie looked to receive payment from FTP Pros that owed $16.5 million to the company. Months went by, and the contract had yet to be finalized. After several disagreements with the Department of Justice, GBT finally backed out of negotiations and a new buyer emerged.
It was reported on April 24th, 2012 that PokerStars had purchased Full Tilt Poker. Rumors flooded poker news sites and forums. The reported $750 million deal would bail out players domestically and internationally. The same day, GBT confirmed that they were on the outs, and were focusing on launching their own online poker room.
Light at the End of the Tunnel for Full Tilt Players
It is rumored that a deal will between the two parties will be formally announced soon. PokerStars have stated that they are in ongoing settlement discussions with the DOJ but that these talks are confidential. The deal would include full repayment of player balances from day one, and would allow PokerStars to buyout their biggest competitor.
There are also rumors that PokerStars may partner with a land based Vegas casino operator and would work out a deal that would allow them to re-enter the US market. Poker players are holding their breath for an announcement, as the deal with PokerStars is the best opportunity for them to get paid. There does not seem to be other potential buyers for FTP on the horizon, if the deal should fall through. If the deal happens to made, players may receive their lost bankrolls just in time for the 2012 World Series of Poker. The poker economy would receive a massive cash infusion before the biggest tournament series of the year.
Cereus’s (Ultimate Bet/Absolute Poker) Downfall
The Cereus Poker Network was essentially crippled with the Black Friday indictments. Scott Tom and Brent Beckley, the founders of Absolute Poker, were indicted on charges of money laundering and bank fraud.
Unlike PokerStars and Full Tilt, which immediately shut out US play, Ultimate Bet’s and Absolute’s US players were still playing months after Black Friday. They had been restricted from cashing out and transferring funds, but were still able to play on the network. International players were restricted to $250 payouts, once per week.
Less than a month after the indictments, Cereus traffic was down 82%, and the company was beginning to grow deep in debt. Their parent company, Blanca Games, which acquired the network in 2010, was on the brink of bankruptcy. The company was accumulating debt at a rapid pace and could not meet their debt obligations.
On December 20th, 2011, Brent Beckley turned himself in to US federal authorities and pleaded guilty to bank fraud and wire fraud. He faced 30 years in prison if he decided to fight the charges, so he accepted a plea bargain that will see him serve just 12 to 18 months in prison. His co-founder and step brother, Scott Tom is still at large and has likely left Costa Rica; the country where Cereus’ offices are located. He is still on the run as of April, 2012.
PocketFives.com reported in March, 2012, that Blanca Games (the software company behind AP/UB) was nearly insolvent and were moving to liquidate their assets in hopes of adopting a payment plan to repay players. Their reporters also mentioned that players would probably only receive 15 to 20 cents for every dollar owed! The situation has continually been a tough break for the $50 million Cereus already owes to players across the globe since Black Friday.
It is difficult to say what will happen in this situation, but the prospects do not look good. There are many rumors that the DOJ seized $17 million in Cereus funds, but this has not been confirmed. Also, one of Absolute Poker’s parent companies apparently also owes $30 million in back taxes to the Norwegian government. The network’s best bet will probably be to liquidate, since there are no potential buyers on the horizon.
The network is still active, currently running micro limit games and is just twisting in the wind, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. On top of that, the company’s client list has been leaked, and players have gotten unsolicited calls and emails from poker rooms wanting their business.
Though it looks bleak, if you have money at Cererus your best bet would be to contact the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and US Department of Justice. Document your claim and talk about your options. Hopefully, the situation is resolved with a positive outcome for the players.
Everleaf Gaming’s Shutdown Post-Black Friday
Everleaf Gaming is a poker network of over 100 skins that are headquartered out of Malta. The room abruptly left the US market after processor and fund seizures by the Department of Justice in February, 2012. Though, the network is still operating their payouts have been delayed across the network, not just for US players, but players worldwide. Recent reports have cashouts for players outside the US at 6 weeks.
It is unclear the amount of money Everleaf Gaming owes players but most have not been paid since the US player blackout in February. The network has done a poor job communicating with players, but insists the funds are “ring fenced” and safe. Still, players have for the most part been unable to receive payment from any of the 100 Everleaf Network Skins, which all use the same Everleaf Network controlled cashiers.
Payout Concerns for Everleaf Players in the USA
Many Everleaf players reported being paid after they opened a foreign bank account, but this is a costly and nonviable solution for many. Everleaf has not communicated with players and given them viable options for withdrawing. The best course of action would be to contact your network skin and insist that you be paid. File a complaint with Malta’s Lotteries and Gaming Authority, and mention Everleaf’s unethical business practices. Everleaf representatives have threatened players who post emails on public forums with false legal ramifications. They are simply trying to intimidate players with scare tactics. The company seems to not want to pay Americans, because they can no longer generate them rake.
Online poker in the US is drastically different since the Black Friday indictments. The DOJ is still secretly waging its own personal war with every online poker room that continues to provide real money play to Americans.
There are still many sites that provide real money games to US citizens, some seem more trustworthy than others, but they are all at risk due to future DOJ seizures or indictments. Though cashouts have been slowed, there are still many viable options such as Carbon Poker or America’s Cardroom.
However, as online poker heads into unknown territory and some US states begin legalizing state run poker rooms, it could be dangerous to keep a large amount of money in any offshore site. Playing poker online for US players is still a reasonable option – and there some fantastic bonuses to be had! However, it is important to recognize the risks, do your research and use caution when choosing a US-facing online poker room.