Recent confirmation of a deal between Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and the U.S. Department of Justice to allow the sale of Full Tilt and the repayment of their players may not be as rosy as it seems. There is some degree of doubt as to whether the U.S. government will fully refund players their winnings from playing online poker, or if they will only refund deposits made by those players. This would potentially cost avid poker fans millions of dollars, but currently the intentions for those recouped funds are unclear.
PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker agreed to forfeit over $700 million to settle their case against the Department of Justice. With only $150 million owed to U.S. poker players by Full Tilt, it appears that the settlement funds are more than enough to provide recompense to fans that have waited nearly 16 months for positive word on the Full Tilt case. Rumor has it that certain people within the Department of Justice are less than satisfied with paying U.S. players for money they assert was won illegally. This is inconsistent with the arrangements made with PokerStars in the aftermath of Black Friday, when players were repaid their total online winnings promptly following the U.S. crackdown.
The U.S. government has always described U.S. citizens as victims in this situation. Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan leading the charge against online gaming companies, has described Full Tilt as a Ponzi scheme. Full Tilt is alleged to have paid their owners nearly a half a billion dollars in compensation while not keeping enough funds on hand to refund player deposits worldwide. While this is unconfirmed speculation about the ultimate fate of the settlement funds and player deposits, it seems disingenuous to secure the necessary funds to fully repay the victims of this crime and refuse to do so, simultaneously asserting contradictory repayment policies.
The political climate for online casino gaming becomes cloudier every day. The U.S. Department of Justice continues to hold the belief that online gaming is illegal despite numerous legal opinions and clarifications from the Executive branch. Unfortunately, the players are the ones left in the middle, waiting for the day when the laws are clear, government actions are consistent and poker fans can again take part in one of America’s greatest games online.