by Haley Hintze
The Department of Justice-appointed administrator for the Full Tilt Poker remissions process, Garden City Group, released a second wave of refunds in early April. Almost $6 million in online-poker balances was sent to about 2,800 players whose banking information could not be verified in time for inclusion in the larger first wave of payments earlier this year. All told, GCG has issued about $81 million in FTP payment to date, with two large categories still under review – online affiliates and former players who enjoyed some form of sponsorship relationship with the site. The funds for the ongoing refunds came from the 2012 PokerStars settlement with the DOJ, which acquired Full Tilt’s remaining assets in exchange for the remission funding.
by Haley Hintze
Negotiations between competing California tribal-casino factions over differences in language in rival Cali intrastate online poker bills have fallen apart over allegations that PokerStars may be negotiating to at least one tribe and two major independent cardrooms. A 12-tribe group led by the state’s Pechanga and Agua Caliente bands issued a public statement against PokerStars and its parent Rational Group, demanding that a “bad actor” provision, designed to block PokerStars, be included in any California i-poker legislation. The rival Morongo tribal nation and the Commerce and Hawaiian Gardens card rooms have been named in media reports as negotiating with Stars for software services. PokerStars paid more than $500 million to resolve its federal “Black Friday” case but admitted no legal wrongdoing, and would currently be subject to approval by California gaming regulators rather than being blocked by a Cali i-poker bad-actor provision.
by Haley Hintze
Twin Congressional measures seeking to reinvigorate the 1961 Wire Act and thereby make illegal most forms of Internet gambling, including poker, have been introduced in Congress. The bills, submitted by US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and US Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), originated with the deep backing of billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which operates the Venetian and Palazzo in Las Vegas. The preliminary forms of both bills were written by a federal lobbyist funded by Adelson, who hopes to curtail Internet-based competition to his existing land-based casinos. Both new Congressional measures, denoted as S. 2159 and H.R. 4301, respectively, have been sent to Congressional committees.
Poker News Briefs: Utah House Investigation Reports Probable Felonies Linked in Online Poker MattersMarch 24, 2014 - 11:20am
by Haley Hintze
Utah House Investigation Reports Probable Felonies by Former State AG, US Senators Linked in Online Poker Matters – A 206-page report issued by a Utah House-authorized investigative panel in mid-March has asserted that former state Attorney General John Swallow may have committed as many as eight different felonies in a wide-ranging series of allegations with ties to the “Black Friday” online-poker processing conducted through a St. George, UT bank. Central to the investigation’s findings are evidence obtained from indicted Utah online marketer Jeremy Johnson, an unindicted, but important figure in the Black Friday affair. A secretly taped conversation of a meeting between Johnson and Swallow includes admissions of suspect behavior by Swallow, who resigned in November, and also includes the Johnson-alleged assertion of a million-dollar bribe paid through back channels to US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) through back channels. The investigation into Swallow, led by two Utah county prosecutors, also includes the links to Reid and to US Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), but without formal federal assistance. According to the two Utah prosecutors, their request for the FBI to investigate Reed’s and Lee’s possible connections was blocked by the US Department of Justice.
by Haley Hintze
Full Tilt Remissions Administrator Wires $76M in Refunds – DOJ-authorized claims administrator Garden City Group has delivered the first wave of Full Tilt Poker refund payments to US players whose bankrolls on the online site have been in limbo since April, 2011. On February 28th, GCG sent a total of about $76 million to more than 27,500 former FTP players. The mass refunds represent the first of several payment waves to be issued by GCG over the coming months, and represent those players who accepted the balances shown in Full Tilt’s system without protest. Players with disputed balances and players who enjoyed either affiliate or rakeback relationships with the site, which was at one time the second-largest US-facing online poker offering, are subject to lengthier, individual review.
by Haley Hintze
A new lobbying group favoring the regulated oversight of online poker and gambling has debuted. The new Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection (C4COP) is funded by MGM International with support from the American Gaming Association. C4COP was created to counteract the anti-online push of CSIG, with C4COP immediately announcing a $250,000 media buy, primarily around Washington, D.C., to promote a pro-online political agenda. Among the political figures already signed to front the group are former GOP Congressmen Mike Oxley and Mary Bono and former Obama administrative staffer Jim Messina.
by Haley Hintze
Pennsylvania Pols Announce Support for Online-Gambling Ban – Three Pennsylvania state legislators have announced support for a yet-to-be-introduced piece of legislation that would criminalize the playing of online poker and other forms of online gambling. The statements by State Sen. Mario Scavello and two others propose summary fines and misdemeanor penalties for playing poker and other forms of gambling online, and if enacted would make Pennsylvania only the second US state where playing online poker is regarded as criminal. (The state of Washington passed a felony law in 2006.) The LV Sands-funded Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) immediately hailed Scavello’s proposal; Scavello’s PA district, coincidentally, is adjacent to the one where the Sands-owned Sands Bethlehem casino is located.
By Haley Hintze
First Wave of Full Tilt Refunds Slated for Late February – Garden City Group, the government-appointed claims administrator overseeing the refunds of Full Tilt Poker online balances of US players that have been frozen since 2011, has announced a first wave of refunds tentatively scheduled for the end of February, 2014. Some 30,000 former FTP account holders will receive approximately $82 million, according to GCG. All of the refunded players in the first wave accepted the balance information as presented to GCG from old Full Tilt records. An additional 8,400 accounts may receive partial or full refunds at a later date, including players with disputed balances and former affiliates and sponsored pros of the site.
by Shari Geller
As 2013 draws to a close it is time for our annual reflection on the stories that made news, whether for good or bad, in the world of poker over the past twelve months. From a new WSOP locale to the continued scrambling over the future of online poker, the return of some notorious names and the introduction of some new ones, 2013 was another eventful year.
The return of online poker in the US was both the biggest story of 2013 as well as the source of great disappointment to poker players. By year’s end, three states have managed to get regulated online poker sites operating to serve their residents, leaving 47 states where poker players cannot enjoy their favorite game in the privacy of their own homes.
Nevada became the first state to license and regulate online poker and had sites up and running by mid-year. Two sites, UltimatePoker. com and WSOP.com, are servicing local Nevada players, but the number of participants is a mere fraction of what Pre-Black Friday websites handled. Delaware followed Nevada as the second state in the country with statewide real-money online poker. Delaware had a soft launch on Halloween and by November, players physically located within the state were able to log on to one of three state-sanctioned sites; Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway. New Jersey governor Chris Christie made a few friends for his expected future presidential run by finally signing legislation allowing New Jersey to allow online poker, and New Jersey has now outpaced Nevada and Delaware in the number of players who have signed up. But while those states overcame the many hurdles to bringing online poker to their residences, other states do not seem to be in any hurry to join them.
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Last week the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement finally announced that PokerStars' application for a gaming license has been suspended for two years—with one pointed equivocation. If the Company seeks relief from this suspension, based on appropriately “changed conditions” within the Company, the DGE says its license application may be reassessed sooner.
The DGE cites the unresolved indictment of PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg as the "primary" cause for the decision. Insiders close to the regulator say there are various other management concerns in the mix, notably including questions as to Isai Scheinberg’s current involvement in Poker Stars. A settlement agreement between the Company and the U.S. Department of Justice, (arising from the Government’s prosecution, U.S. v Scheinberg et al April 15, 2011) presently prohibits Isai Scheinberg from assuming any leadership role in the Company.
Truths and Consequences
It is hard to imagine separating the Scheinberg name from PokerStars; it stands for immense technical know-how in the world of online poker security, an uncanny understanding of the poker business, exceptional responsiveness to customers' wants and needs, and impeccable financial integrity with its patrons. These are the hallmarks of Isai Scheinberg’s PokerStars and they continue to be at the heart of the Company’s operating philosophy with its customers, under his son Mark Scheinberg, say their legions of fans. The younger Scheinberg now holds the reins as CEO,
The Company’s detractors, however, debate PokerStars' business principles beyond the glow of customer satisfaction. Reports of uneven relationships and questions of fairness on the part of the Company in their arrangements with various corporate business partners and a large force of independent contractors surface periodically. So do complaints of a corporate strategy that promotes and endorses "uninformed accusations" of character deficiencies of successful competitors and others not in favor with the Scheinbergs. The chief gripe noted by several competitors and former service providers is "bad-mouthing that emanates from the top of the pyramid,”