The light at the end of the tunnel has gotten a little brighter for U.S. online poker players who had their accounts frozen on April 15, 2011, a date that was quickly dubbed “Black Friday” by the online poker community. On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that the Garden City Group had been hired to serve as Claims Administrator to handle claims from U.S. fraud victims looking to recoup their losses incurred when the Department of Justice shut down several online poker websites, including PokerStars and Full Tilt.
Navigating the logistical and legal implications of returning the estimated $150 million that remained in U.S. players’ Full Tilt Accounts on Black Friday has not been without controversy and consternation on the part of the Department of Justice. On the one hand, the DoJ has consistently taken the position that online poker violates U.S. law, so to pay out funds to individuals who won while engaging in this illegal activity would be inconsistent with that position. On the other hand, as part of the initial settlement with Pokerstars in U.S. v. Pokerstars, the DoJ allowed Pokerstars to refund approximately $184 million to non-U.S. Full Tilt players, and has indicated that they would have done the same if it were not for the fact that Full Tilt had maintained insufficient funds to cover all player deposits.
Now, with the appointment of the Garden City Group as Claims Administrator, the government is taking steps to begin the process of allowing U.S. Full Tilt customers to file petitions for remission to potentially reclaim some of the funds that many had written off on Black Friday. This is the beginning of what will be a long process and for now the only thing U.S. players can do is call a toll-free hotline for more information (866-250-2640) or sign up for e-mail notifications on the Claim Administrator’s website (www.FullTiltPokerClaims.com).
While U.S. Full Tilt players can take some comfort in the appointment of the Claims Administrator and the references in the press release to them as “fraud victims,” it remains to be seen how many U.S. poker players will avail themselves of this opportunity, particularly given the murky legality of online poker and the potential tax implications for those players that may have been less than forthcoming with the IRS regarding potential gambling winnings.