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BLACK FRIDAY

15th April 2011 will always be remembered as the Black Friday of poker history. On this day the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) pressed charges against three of the biggest online poker operators in the world in a federal criminal case officially referred to as 'United States v. Scheinberg, 10 Cr. 336 (2011)'.

The charges was that these three online poker operators had violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIEGA) which was passed in 2006 and which made it a federal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison, for a gambling business to knowingly accept payments in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.

In addition to Isai Scheinberg, founder of PokerStars, 10 other central persons in online poker and online payment processing were included in the indictment from the DOJ. The charges also included bank fraud and money laundering in order for the poker operators to process transfers to and from their customers.1

But of course it was not only the heads of poker rooms and payment processors that woke up to unpleasant news on Black Friday, also millions of online poker players, some of them with millions of dollars in their poker accounts, suddenly did not know the status of their funds as the DOJ seized the five domains from these three online poker operators: Pokerstars.com, Fulltiltpoker.com, AbsolutePoker.com, UltimateBet.com and UB.com.

When players and others visited the dot com sites on Black Friday they could only see a statement saying, among other things, that “the domain had been seized by the US Immigration and Customs enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations, Office of the Special Agent in charge”, and that “it is unlawful to conduct an illegal gambling business”. Hysteria and desperation spread fast throughout the online poker community. Players feared for their bankrolls and some for their future livelihood.

At Pokernews.com you can read a timeline that mentions the most important poker related incicents of 15th April 2011. It starts at 8 PM CET when news of the indictment starts to spread. An hour and a half later PokerStars blocked all US players from real money games. At 3:52 PM CET (April 16th) CET Full Tilt Poker blocked US players and issued a statement saying they would continue to offer peer-to-peer online poker services outside the United States. On the following days several large tournaments and upcoming sponsorships were cancelled. On April 20th PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker reached an agreement with the DOJ and were allowed to reopen their dot com sites in order to facilitate distribution of player funds. Both operators had dot eu domains open shortly after Black Friday that allowed players outside of USA to play real money games.

“There are two ways this can go. One way, Congress becomes too scared to deal with this issue. Or Congress will realize that, to millions of Americans, this is their hobby and sometimes livelihood, and they need to make it legalized for them to play. The next month is going to be our month to either seize or lose”, said Poker Players Alliance (PPA) executive director John Pappas following the Black Friday indictment.

According to Pappas, PPA members sent more than 70.000 emails into Congress, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder during the first week after Black Friday.

The three poker operators that were mainly involved reacted very differently to the indictment and poker history after Black Friday has showed that the consequences differed greatly for the different operators. The indictment also had consequences for other operators and online poker as a whole. PokerStars and Full Tilt blocked US players but remained open for real money games via their dot eu domains. Absolute Poker & UB had the same owners, and these sites continued to offer real money games also to American citizens.


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