The indictments on April 15 against key members of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker continue to dominate the news involving the poker community. This edition of The Week That Was highlights the major news items after last week’s indictments the past several days.
Three individuals arraigned
Three of the eleven individuals indicted have been arrested and released on bail. Payment processor Chad Elie was arrested on Friday and released on bail. Saturday he married Playboy Playmate Destiny Davis, then appeared in front of a Federal Court judge in Manhattan on Tuesday to plead not guilty to all charges. Utah bank executive John Campos, indicted on six charges, appeared in front of a Magistrate Court judge on Monday, his arraignment date scheduled for a later date. The third person nabbed so far is payment processor Bradley Franzen, indicted on all nine counts listed in the indictment. Franzen also pleaded not guilty to all nine counts.
Domain names restored
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) released the PokerStars.com and FullTiltPoker.com domains after reaching agreements with the two sites to help facilitate the return of funds to US players. The Absolute Poker and UB domains remain in the hands of the DOJ, but are welcome to make a similar agreement with the US government. Full Tilt Poker issued a statement after the DOJ press release saying they do not have a full accounting of the players funds seized, contradictory to the DOJ’s declaration that no player funds were seized. PokerStars’ statement mentioned Isle of Man regulations that player funds be segregated from company assets. No time frame has been announced for the return of players funds, but deposits and withdrawals for non-US players are being processed as usual.
Full Tilt Poker’s ultra-high roller Onyx Cup tournament series cancelled the first two events scheduled for Las Vegas, leaving the rest of the schedule in limbo at this time. The World Team Poker Championship, scheduled the week before the WSOP at the South Point casino in Las Vegas, was postponed until the end of summer. Victory Poker cancelled plans on moving from Cake to the Cereus Network, deciding to completely pull out of the US.
Television programming affected
Several televised poker programs financed by online poker sites were promptly removed from the schedule. PokerStars’ The Big Game and Million Dollar Challenge will no longer air on Fox. The second season of the North American Poker Tour scheduled to air on ESPN in the US will now air PokerStars.tv. World Series of Poker programming on the ESPN family of networks has been removed for the time being. High Stakes Poker’s schedule on GSN was reduced to airing Saturdays from 10pm-3am, removing the Sunday airing of episodes. Subscription poker site Gold Strike Poker replaced PokerStars as sponsor of the program Saturday night.
In Wales, a taping of The Poker Lounge, a poker series presented by Full Tilt Poker, was cancelled after three of eight episodes due to an issue regarding payments by a Full Tilt subsidiary. Payment was eventually submitted to the production company with a resumption of taping scheduled for May.
Online poker tournaments downsized
Major online poker tournaments on the online poker sites affected by the indictments featured drastically reduced guarantees. Full Tilt Poker’s FTOPS XX commenced Sunday with the total guaranteed prize pool plunging from $38 million to just under $13 million. PokerStars SCOOP series stating in May plunged from $45 million to $25 million. Similar drops were reflected in the daily online poker tournaments, especially the Sunday major tournaments as guarantees dropped from 33 to 60 percent.
Where the poker sites stand
At this time, both Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars have completely prevented real-money play, withdrawals and transfers for US players. Absolute Poker and UB have notices saying real money activity has been suspended but there are reports of US players playing in cash games and tournaments on the site but withdrawals and transfers are not allowed. PokerStars provided an FAQ for their US players giving further details. Absolute Poker issued a statement Thursday announcing they had obtained counsel and were in negotiations with the DOJ to facilitate the return of players funds.
The major online poker sites may have left the US forever, but there are still plenty of options available. BLUFF has provided a list of US-friendly sites accepting players with a variety of promotions available to new and returning players.
The WSOP Circuit event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was in full swing off this week, with the $1,600 Main Event running April 28 through 30. The World Poker Tour debuts in Florida with the $10,000 Seminole Hard Rock Showdown in Hollywood, Florida April 27 through May 2. Iowa’s state Senate approved a gambling bill that includes the state Racing and Gaming Commission issuing a study on the feasibility of intrastate poker completed by December 1. The next edition of the PokerStars SuperStar Showdown features Viktor “Isildur1″ Blom against qualifier MASTERMIXUS on April 24, playing 2,500 hands of $5/$10 no-limit hold’em.