On the night of Friday to Saturday, access to three of the biggest poker sites in the online poker world sites were closed to millions of U.S. Internet users. The sites include Full Tilt Poker and Pokerstars. This is “Black Friday in Poker”
In the aftermath of this event, the federal authorities took action by starting the apprehension of 11 suspects (Jesse Scheinberg, Paul Tate, Raymond Bitar, Bradley Franzen, Tom Scott, Brent Beckley, Nelson Burtnick, Ryan Lang, Ira Rubin, Chad Elias, John Campos ) and the freezing of 75 bank accounts related to the online poker rooms.
What were the grounds for such a hard handed federal intervention? In particular, they have been accused of using devious loopholes (like creating fake online stores) in order to trick American banks and allow their poker customers to make deposits on their gaming platforms.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act or UIGEA for short which was established in 2006, stated that it should be not possible for US players to place money into the banking accounts of online poker companies if they are located outside national territory – and the operations were defying this very law.
Back to the recent event which took place, hours after the news erupted, various news sources were talking about Tzvetkoff Daniel who was already arrested about a year ago for facilitating the transit of millions of dollars between American poker players and online poker rooms. He did this through the setting up of off shore companies. The entrepreneur, although found guilty of his charges, was released on bail in exchange of disclosure of valuable information given to the federal authorities. This event may have some weight in the actions which took place on what the entire poker industry is referring to as “Black Firday”
So what will happen to the accused?
Out of the 11 ‘wanted’ persons, 3 have already been taken in custody. Chad Elijah and John Campos were first and Bradley Franzen followed. These three were the only U.S. residents of the list of the accused. For the other accused members, the U.S. authorities have asked for the help of Interpol as well as other foreign governments to help ‘justice be served’
The eleven defendants, among whom are Jesse Scheinberg and Raymond Bitar, from PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker respectively, may be given a cumulative sentence of 55 years imprisonment. One of the features of the U.S. penal system allows the accumulation of sentences for different crimes committed, and these would be summed up with 30 years imprisonment for tax fraud, another 20 years for money laundering and another 5 years for illegal gambling.
Prison sentences apart, the accused may also face up to $7.5 billion in fines to be paid to the state.
So what will happen with the poker rooms?
• The poker room operators have obviously already took charge of the situation. Pokerstars and Full tilt Poker have moved their gaming platforms to Pokerstars.eu and FullTiltPoker.co.uk.
• By abandoning the American market the two biggest poker rooms on the face of this earth will be losing out between 24% and 40% of their user base
• Pokerstars have already halved the prize-pools of their guaranteed tournaments.
• Some agreements which have been put in place by the poker rooms have also been cancelled. Pokerstars and Wynn Resorts for example are no longer in dealings and have terminated their associations.
In addition to the points above, the medium term sustainability of the Poker giants may be challenged. Some European Poker operators and poker ambassadors are already suggesting that this is the end of the big two, however it seems that Pokerstars may be better equipped to overcome this crisis than their arch-rivals in the same boat – Full Tilt Poker.
Full Tilt’s Onyx Cup Series has already been canceled, before it’s first stage which was meant to be held in Vegas in May 2011.
Many players are also concerned about the participation rate at the upcoming World Series of Poker which will surely be effected with the reduction in online satellite qualifiers by American players. On twitter, Tom Dwan gave his estimation here and suggested that there may be around 5,144 players this year compared to the 7,319 in 2010.
There are further concerns being raised about more events and live circuits, particularly the NAPT and the North American stage of the WPT, as these will also see reduced numbers if American poker players will not qualify through the sites in question.
Apart from that, there is also the issue of the reduction in business for many related businesses that provided services to these companies. These include advertising, affiliates, and specialized media.
As for the US players
After a few instances that the case went public, panic swept throughout the web and amongst poker circles. The panic manifested itself in thousands of American Players who begun emptying their player accounts on FT and PS.
The large volume of withdrawals, in such a short time, was not something that the sites ever had to deal with before “Black Friday”, and as such, many players experienced difficulties with their withdrawals.
Both Full Tilt and Pokerstars have done their best at re-assuring their (ex)clients that their money is safe. Tom Dwan, an ambassador for Full Tilt, also released a statement to that effect on his twitter page.
Both companies have also indicated in numerous press releases spread around the web that their operations outside the US would be unaffected and that all funds were safe and all payments would be honoured. Even though payments may be honoured, their timeliness may still be effected though.
In support of their sponsors, online poker gurus Tom Dwan and Phil Galfond have been trying to re-assure players about their withdrawals by offering a guarantee of $1 million dollars against any payments that will not be honoured by the poker sites. How effective this may or may not be still remains to be seen.
Pro players, part of the Full Tilt pro team, and the Pokerstars Pro players may end up losing their contracts, especially in the short term, this is especially true for those players who have their biggest following in the US, rather than European players.
The consequences for European players
The companies have re-assured their European players that their EU versions of the poker rooms will not be affected, and that players may continue to play at their hearts content. Players may notice that there is less traffic on the sites as a result of the reduction of the American players, as well as the reduced guaranteed prize-pools, etc…
In the meantime however, many EU players have already started to shift their funds form Pokerstars and FullTilt. Probably as a matter of safety, or just to make sure – either way, one should not condemn them for taking such precautionary actions. Making a withdrawal and waiting to see what happens may seem as the most sensible thing to do at this early stage.
We have already seen certain trends emerge in the market. Rival European poker rooms have already started to promote their rooms for those players who are considering shifting their accounts from FT and PS to less ‘murky poker environments. Bwin & Party Poker are likely recipients of a number of European players, in fact, their stock pirce opened 30% higher on Monday – a much needed break after news of the German crackdown 11 days ago.
In addition, as these things go, operators like ChiliPoker and Titan have also started with their promotions to piggyback off the turn of events surrounding the once almighty FT and PS.
So what would we consider a safe environment now that some of the greatest poker giants have been halted by the FBI & DOJ?
ChiliPoker have a promo named Purple Day which is aimed specifically at the events which took place on Friday 15th April. They have aimed it at those EU players who may have their reservations at playing on Full Tilt and PokerStars after the indictment by the federal authorities.
ChiliPoker are offering a massive Massive 200% bonus up to $1,000 to players who sign-up using the code PAYDAY
They have also taken it one step further by offering a special treatment for players coming from the Full Tilt and Poker Stars. Make a first deposit of at least $50 and ChiliPoker will match your vip level that you had on these two sites for 3 months!
Chili are taking their promotion an all high level and have also added a $1,000 daily free-roll, a $5,000 weekly free-roll and New tournaments for the Easter holiday! You may find more information about their ‘Purple day’ promotion here.
Online Poker Promo
Bonus Code: PAYDAY