Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PokerStars Standing Tall in the Saddle

'Tall in the Saddle' (1944)In the last couple of posts I’ve been making references to the “wild West” days of online poker, which got me in the mood to watch an old Western. Ended up looking at the old John Wayne title Tall in the Saddle -- a film that actually includes a neat poker scene -- and had in fact written up a post about it to share here.

Gonna save that, though, because like everyone else, my attention has suddenly been taken up with the just-breaking news that an agreement between PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the U.S. Department of Justice has at last been finalized.

For a good summary of the news, check out Diamond Flush’s blog post “PokerStars Acquires Full Tilt Poker’s Assets, DOJ Agreement Complete.”

There she outlines how FTP is forfeiting whatever it has left to the government, while PokerStars is also paying a $547 million settlement. In return, civil forfeiture claims and money laundering charges against both sites are being dismissed, although other criminal charges will remain unresolved.

She also explains how PokerStars will make it possible for non-U.S. Full Tilt Poker players to withdraw their FTP balances within 90 days. Meanwhile we Yanks who had money on FTP will be able to file a petition with the DOJ to get our money back.

Also of note, Isai Scheinberg (named in the original Black Friday indictment) will no longer be involved in running PokerStars. Additionally, neither Stars nor FTP will be allowed to offer real money poker in the U.S. until the law allows for such. In other words, the door isn’t completely closed to a return of either or both sites to the U.S., although obviously much would have to change legislatively for that to happen.

PokerStars settles with DOJEric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, has issued a statement about the agreement over on the PokerStars blog. Hollreiser explains Stars’ plan to repay players as well as its intention reopen Full Tilt Poker and operate it as a separate brand (outside the U.S., natch). Wild stuff.

Full Tilt Poker also issued a press release which you can find in various places, including Diamond Flush’s blog. The FTP statement adds nothing new other than apologies to customers and expressions of appreciation to loyal employees.

The DOJ has sent out a press release as well. There we also see spelled out how Stars will be paying the $184 million or so owed to non-U.S. FTP players and how U.S. players will be paid back in part from that $547 million Stars is shelling out to the DOJ. (In other words, Stars is covering FTP’s entire tab here.)

Aside from reiterating the wrongs done by those indicted and charged in the civil complaint -- and the DOJ’s earnest desire to enforce U.S. laws -- the DOJ’s statement also includes a few other particulars. Stars can’t ever hire Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Rafe Furst, or Nelson Burtnick (like they would). A motion has been filed for Absolute Poker/UltimateBet to forfeit their assets, too. And in the DOJ’s statement there appears a lengthy reiteration of the sites’ various crimes is spelled out as well.

Also worth a look, Lee Jones has posted an FAQ over at Two Plus Two answering questions about the agreement and providing further specifics about what is to come.

As I was saying yesterday, the whole idea of PokerStars acquiring Full Tilt Poker -- and now actually running it as a separate brand -- is kind of mind-blowing. Was utterly unimaginable pre-Black Friday, and really for the year that followed almost no one even speculated something like this could happen.

However, like a hand that has gone to showdown it is now perhaps possible to begin to decipher a certain logic behind the players’ decisions. Such will be the “game” that will occupy a lot of us as we await the return of funds. And as we continue to hope for the eventual return of the game, too.

John Wayne in 'Tall in the Saddle' (1944)Funny... in that post about Tall in the Saddle I talk about how John Wayne’s character -- like happens a lot in those old Westerns -- finds it necessary to enforce the law himself when the official means of keeping order have broken down.

Almost seems like PokerStars is here playing a similar role, perhaps having come to it with a backstory of having been “reformed” (so to speak) and now working for the cause of good. (Not that Stars believes it was formerly the outlaw the DOJ painted it to be.)

Like I say, we’ll have plenty of time to figure out how to identify and judge all of the good guys and bad guys here. Meanwhile I’ll be grabbing another bag of popcorn, as this story has taken a most exciting turn.

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