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DOJ Uncomfortable Paying Poker Winnings?

Following the agreement allowing PokerStars to acquire the assets of Full Tilt and commence to reimburse players, industry rumors abound that the DOJ would like to pay only the deposits made by U.S. players and not their entire winnings.

According to a recent Forbes article, “there are people at the Department of Justice who are uncomfortable with the idea of paying players money that was won in online poker games played on Full Tilt’s web site.” This has fueled speculation that U.S. players may not receive their entire account balances. Which, as you can imagine, has U.S. players more than a little angry that this could happen.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has chimed in on the matter via Executive Director John Pappas, who said that the DOJ allowed PokerStars to pay its players in full last year–both in the U.S. and abroad–and that Full Tilt would have also been allowed to do so but Full Tilt was short on cash. And with non-U.S. players expected to be reunited with their entire account balances once Full Tilt is relaunched in 90 days or so, it would lack consistency if the DOJ would hedge on reimbursing U.S. players on the assumption that American players won the money illegally.

“It would be unfair for players who were successful online to be shortchanged from what they have rightly won and quite honestly lawfully won,” Pappas said.

Apparently, the DOJ office in charge of reimbursing players–the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Division–has yet to fully make a determination on repayment to U.S. players. This was confirmed by Full Tilt attorney Jeff Ifrah, who said, “The section that is in charge of the remission fund hasn’t decided that question clearly and that is the next big issue.”

Although some attorneys with the DOJ may see online poker as being illegal, the agreement by PokerStars and the DOJ to acquire the assets and reimburse players admitted no wrongdoing. The press release issued by the DOJ following the agreement on July 31 specifically states as a quote from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that, “We are pleased to announce these settlements by Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, which allow us to quickly get significant compensation into the victim players’ hands. Today’s settlements demonstrate that if you engage in conduct that violates the laws of the United States, as we alleged in this case, then even if you are doing so from across the ocean, you will have to answer for that conduct and turn over your ill-gotten gains.”

The key phrases here are “significant compensation” and “victim players’ hands.” It makes no mention of U.S. players receiving 100% of their account balances, but does consider players to be victims. And the DOJ still views the actions of PokerStars to be unlawful, even though they were not required to admit guilt to any unlawful activity in the settlement agreement.

So, apparently, the good news that the deal between PokerStars, the DOJ, and Full Tilt went through and that all players will be reimbursed their entire account balances is not a done deal in regards to paying back U.S.players. At least that’s what the Forbes article alludes to. However, poker players at Full Tilt have done nothing wrong and are considered victims in the matter. And as victims, one would think that the DOJ is required to compensate victims to the fullest extent. But when DOJ attorneys begin reviewing claims of some of the successful players who will be attempting to recover sums in the hundreds of thousands, and in a handful of cases, over a million dollars, cutting checks for those lofty amounts might be hard to fathom as being that of a victim.




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Charles Rettmuller

Charles has been an avid poker player for a number of years, both live and online. He holds a degree in journalism and previously worked as a reporter for a Chicago-based newspaper. Charles joined the PokerUpdate team in early 2012 and writes daily news articles for the site.