ONLINE POKER BLACK FRIDAY: The Latest Updates

After a weekend with little news and lots of speculation, things are starting to happen in response to the Department of Justice seizure of online poker sites. There are still plenty of unanswered questions, but there have been some big developments over the past week, including announcements from ESPN, the first plea from one of the 11 indicted persons, and updates in the ever-changing landscape of online poker in the United States. We’ll be updating this article as news breaks, so keep checking back in for the latest stories and headlines.

Jon Kyl has a change of heart on online poker?

A poster in the 2+2 Legislation forum found an interesting passage from Arizona Senator Jon Kyl regarding Internet gambling. In the “Crime and Justice” section of Kyl’s website he makes the following statement: Efforts to carve out an exception for games like poker, which many believe is a game of skill, may be considered later this year. Until I have the chance to review them, I cannot make a judgment about their merits; but I will consider them carefully as long as they leave in place the broader proscriptions against online betting. Could there be an online poker bill in the near future that could get the Kyl seal of approval?

Another Black Friday arrest

Ira Rubin became the fourth individual arrested as part of the Black Friday indictments Monday in Guatemala. Accused of helping the three major US-facing online poker sites disguise payments, Rubin appeared in a Magistrate Court in Miami Wednesday afternoon without his defense lawyer, who has yet to be paid for his services. A hearing is scheduled for Friday to determine if a local lawyer can be hired for Rubin for a May 2nd hearing.

PokerStars starts processing US cashouts

In an interview for the Two Plus Two PokerCast, PokerStars representative Steve Day announced that US players may be able to start processing cashouts starting Tuesday in a best-case scenario. Reports from players attempting to cash out after hearing the announcement noticed several different options available: Wire transfer (minimum $50,000), Check (up to $2,500), and Cashout Request to Direct Bank Transfer. The latter method states processing will take up to 72 hours with payment appearing in player’s bank accounts within five business days. The cashout screens have changed several times Tuesday afternoon, giving the appearance an official announcement from PokerStars will be announced shortly.

UPDATE: Selecting the “Cashout Request to Direct Bank Transfer” option now asks for additional banking information.

Players’ Only and SportsBook.com: no new US players after May 1

Two of the remaining US-facing sites accepting players, Players’ Only and SportsBook.com, will stop accepting NEW American players from joining the sites starting May 1. Existing customers will still be allowed to play, deposit and make withdrawals on both sites after the May 1 deadline.

Bradley, Wise and Pappas talk Black Friday on Poker Edge podcast

A special edition of the ESPN.com Poker Edge podcast is now available as Andrew Feldman discusses the latest Black Friday developments with Editor in Chief of BLUFF Magazine Lance Bradley, ESPN Poker columnist Gary Wise and Poker Players Alliance executive John Pappas. Co-host Phil Gordon issued a brief statement at the start of the program, unable to comment directly due to his ties with Full Tilt Poker.

PokerStars adjusts start times, drops guarantees to SCOOP

PokerStars has moved the start times of the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) running May 8-22 three hours earlier from the original start times to account for changes in the main location of expected participants. The change in the schedule also reduces the prize pools by over 40% to $25 million. The new schedule is currently updated in the PokerStars client. The SCOOP website will reflect the changes later today.

Absolute Poker issues statement

Absolute Poker issued a statement Thursday afternoon, announcing the poker site retained Blank Rome LLP, one of the 100 largest law firms in the United States as counsel to provide legal advice in regards to the civil and criminal complaints revealed on April 15. Absolute Poker declared that their top priority is to refund the balances to its and UB’s players in the US, but given believe the responsible course of action at this time was to review with the court filings with their attorneys before taking further action.

Their law firm, featuring a defense team that specializes in cases involving bank fraud, and money laundering, has initiated contact with the US Attorney’s office as Absolute Poker will provide information and timely updates to Absolute Poker and UB players as the site moves forward in the coming weeks.

Antigua says US online poker shutdown illegal

Reuters is reporting Antigua and Barbuda, licensee of several Internet gaming companies including Absolute Poker, are considering suing the United States for violating global trade law by shutting down several major online poker sites.  In 2005, the World Trade Organization (WTO) had ruled the United States violated international agreements on trade by prosecuting operators of offshore gaming sites, awarding the Caribbean country $21 million.

GSN adjusts schedule for High Stakes Poker

More fallout from Black Friday affecting poker programming on TV as GSN announced Wednesday evening that the schedule for High Stakes Poker, a staple of GSN’s weekend lineup, will now air only on Saturday nights.  Starting April 23, the popular cash game series will air from 10pm to 3am, with new episodes from season 7 airing  11pm and 2am ET.  Sunday programming, featuring seasons with AJ Benza and Gabe Kaplan on commentary, have been completely removed from the schedule.

In an article on the game show blog Buzzerblog a GSN spokesman issued a statement saying  PokerStars.net and FullTiltPoker.net have also withdrawn their presenting sponsorships, brand integrations and ads from the network’s poker programming starting this weekend and will further evaluate additional adjustments to the schedule as needed.

TV crew walks off UK poker set

The second season of The Poker Lounge, a poker show filmed in Cardiff, Wales presented by Full Tilt Poker, was abruptly cancelled Wednesday afternoon according to Pokerati.com. Presentable Productions, the production company filming walked off the set after recording the third of eight heats.  An second installement of payment by wire transfer from Pocket Kings, a Full Tilt subsidiary in Ireland, was not received as promised and the crew walked off the set. One player affected by the cancellation was Canadian WSOP bracelet winner and Full Tilt Poker sponsored pro Scott Montgomery, expressing his unhappiness of the situation on Twitter.

UPDATE: In an interview with Presentable for EGRmagazine.com, the payment issue has been resolved and production will resume for The Poker Lounge in May.

PokerStars issues FAQ for US Players

PokerStars has issued an FAQ for US players to answer a variety of questions stemming from the Black Friday indictments.  Some in the US may not be able to see the FAQ right away as the FBI warning may still appear at www.pokerstars.com.

US Department of Justice to return PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker Domains

Earlier this morning, the US Department of Justice issued a press release stating an agreement had been reached with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to release the pokerstars.com and fulltiltpoker.com domain names to facilitate the return of players funds in the US. No official statement has been made in regards to Absolute Poker and UB.

Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars issue statements

In light of the news from the US Department of Justice, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars have issued official statements on the latest developments.

Full Tilt Poker’s statement noted that the return of the fulltiltpoker.com domain was a first step in returning funds to US players, but several significant practical and legal impediments remained to returning funds in the near future. The statement also declared that Full Tilt Poker had no accounting of the millions of dollars in player funds seized by the government, who have not agreed to permit any of the seized funds to return to players.

The Full Tilt Poker statement concludes that numerous legal and jurisdiction issues remain to be considered before poker winnings can be paid out to players in the United States. Although they believe online poker is not illegal according to federal law or in 49 states, the indictments and civil forfeiture action filed on Friday require Full Tilt Poker to proceed with caution, working with the US Attorney’s office in New York to resolve the issues and return the players money as soon as possible.

PokerStars statement featured similar comments on how they would vigorously defend themselves against all charges, stating services outside the US are not affected and the company remains compliant with all of their international licenses. The returning of players funds to former US customers was a top priority and the return of the PokerStars.com domain would help start the process, assuring that all deposits were completely safe. The statement noted the Isle of Man’s licensing laws required all funds to be held in accounts segregated from company assets and will continue to do so. Players funds are readily available to meet withdrawal demands as the site continues to comply with withdrawal requests from players based outside the US, noting it is business as usual outside the US.

The Poker Players Alliance also issued a statement stating the people have spoken loud and clear, but it’s just a small victory in the fight to protect player’s right to play online poker.

WSOP Confirms The Show Will Go On

A Tweet from ESPN’s Andrew Feldman Sunday stated the 2011 World Series of Poker would air on ESPN. News reports Monday led people to believe all poker programming would be removed, including this year’s WSOP. Tuesday afternoon, the @WSOP account confirmed Feldman’s comment with the following:

2011 WSOP will air on ESPN without interruption…in fact, many new TV enhancements coming…stay tuned.

Commissions Commenting

A pair of international gaming commissions with sites affected by the Black Friday indictments issued statements Tuesday. The Isle of Man Gambling Commission released the following statement regarding the indictments against PokerStars:

Following developments on Friday 15th April, the Commission is aware of documentation issued by authorities in the USA which makes allegations against PokerStars and some of its personnel. While we are discussing the matter on an ongoing basis with PokerStars and watching developments, we can confirm that PokerStars’ licensing status in the Isle of Man remains unchanged.

We are aware that PokerStars have suspended the availability of cash-play games in the USA and we are currently endeavouring to ensure that any player who wishes to withdraw money from their account can do so.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission, where Absolute Poker and UB are licensed, issued a statement of their own:

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission is reviewing the indictments issued on April 15, 2011 by the Southern District of New York against three online poker companies, one of which (Absolute Poker) holds its primary gaming license in Kahnawake.

The KGC’s principal concern is that players are not adversely affected by the actions taken by US authorities.  The KGC is presently engaged in discussions with its licensee concerning the status of player accounts.

Upon completion of its review, the KGC will determine what steps may be required and will issue a further statement at that time.

Raymer on Fox Business

2004 World Series of Poker Main Event winner Greg Raymer has appeared on the Fox Business Network several d on the Fox Business network several times over the yearstalked briefly with Fox Business, calling the indictments a “money grab” by the US Department of Justice.

Greenwald on Government Priorities

Slate columnist Glenn Greenwald dedicated his most recent column to questioning the priorities of the US Department of Justice focusing so much of their recent attention to pornography and online poker instead of more pressing matters. Read more here.

Payment Processor Chad Elie Pleads Not Guilty

Chad Elie, one of the four payment processor indicted on Black Friday, appeared in New York federal court on Tuesday and plead not guilty.

“Client pleads not guilty, intends to aggressively defend,” said his attorney, William Cowden, after the hearing. Elie was released on $250,000 bond. Part of the bond was put up by Elie’s wife, Destiny Davis, whom Elie married on Saturday, 24 hours after the indictments were unsealed.

More Casualties: The Big Game and Million Dollar Challenge Off Fox

With 30 episodes of a new season already shot and ready to air The PokerStars Big Game is now in need of a home. Sources close to the network have confirmed that the Million Dollar Challenge the Big Game – both PokerStars-funded productions – will not air on the network again.

There is still a possibility the show finds a market in Canada and the United Kingdom but the shows will not air on a U.S. network any time soon. Five episodes were produced to air in Russia and another five were produced for the Italian market. Those episodes will air in their respective markets.

Bradley Franzen Pleads Not Guilty

The biggest news of the morning was the announcement that Bradley Franzen entered a plea of not guilty to charges of operating an illegal gambling business, bank fraud, and money laundering in Manhattan federal court. Franzen is one of four payment processors listed in the indictment. According to the indictment, Franzen helped the major online poker sites find payment processors willing to take payments from the online poker sites.

Franzen’s bail was set at $200,000 and Reuters is reporting that equity on Franzen’s parents’ home was used to release him this afternoon. John Campos, vice chairman of SunFirst Bank in St. George, Utah was arrested on Friday and is set to appear in a St. George federal court later today. The other eight people listed in the indictment have not been arrested as of yet.

Nevada Lawmakers Pledge to Return PokerStars Contribution

Over the weekend, news came to light that PokerStars contributed $300,000 to a number of Nevada State Assembley members.  The donations preceded the introduction of Assembly Bill 258, a piece of legislation that would introduce intrastate online gambling in Nevada.

On Monday, Las Vegas Sun contributor John Ralston tweeted on @RalstonFlash that the Assembly Democrats who received those donations had a meeting and agreed to return the campaign contributions.

CNBC Speaks with Poker Royalty’s Brian Balsbaugh

CNBC’s Darren Rovell has been covering the online poker seizure all weekend and spoke with Poker Royalty’s Brian Balsbaugh regarding the impact the news has on brick and mortar casinos and ESPN. Since the announcement Friday, Bwin.party stock did see a major bump in value. Here is the video from CNBC:

Sundays Go On Without US Pros

With lowered guarantees all around, the poker sites managed to avoid overlays despite the absence of US players on most sites. BLUFF broke down the Sunday results, including the major events on Lock Poker and Bodog, which are still accepting US players.

AP/UB and Victory Shut the Door on US Customers

While PokerStars was quick to block US players from playing on their site, Americans were able to take part in games on Full Tilt Poker, Cereus Poker Network, and Victory Poker over the course of the weekend. Victory Poker CEO Dan Fleyshman requested the Cake Poker Network to block US players from his site on Sunday. Early Monday, Full Tilt Poker announced it would be logging American users off of their poker client. Some players in the US were able to continue playing on the site because they did not download the latest software upgrade or had stayed logged into the client before news of the seizure broke.

Absolute Poker and UB Poker originally told US players they could continue to play on the site, but could not cash out. As of Monday, they appear to have had a change of heart and will also be blocking US players from taking part in real money games.

The questions about cashouts remain unanswered. PokerStars representatives contacted all SuperNova Elite players on the site to assure them money is safe, but players with US bank accounts are still unable to cash out. However, a PokerStars representative did post in the TwoPlusTwo forums confirming that if US players relocate to a foreign country, they will be able to access their accounts and the funds therein.

ESPN Will Still Broadcast the WSOP

Shortly after the PPA released its official statement on the indictment, BLUFF broke the news that the Onyx Cup was off and ESPN was halting production on PokerStars-sponsored programming. Since then, ESPN Poker’s Andrew Feldman clarified that the upcoming World Series of Poker will still air on ESPN. ESPN also released a statement to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, telling him, “We are making efforts to remove related advertising and programming pending further review.” The North American Poker Tour’s second season was set to kick off on ESPN tonight. Those episodes will likely not air, as any other previously scheduled poker content, including old episodes of WSOP coverage airing on ESPN Classic, were yanked off the air. The contract between ESPN and PokerStars is said to be worth $22 million.

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