Online poker site reopens to allow withdrawals

THE Irish-registered online poker site closed to US customers last week over investigations into money laundering and fraud, has been temporarily reopened to allow punters withdraw millions of dollars in tied-up funds.

It emerged last week that the three biggest online poker operators in the US — the Dublin-registered Full Tilt Poker, the Isle of Man-based PokerStars and Absolute Poker, registered in Antigua — were shut down to American users by the US Department of Justice investigating alleged instances of fraud.

Full Tilt is registered in Ireland, headquartered in Dublin and sponsors many leading professional and international poker tournaments.

Ten executives, including the chief executive from each of the three companies, are accused of violating the US Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which blocks the transfer of money from American banks to online gaming companies.

New York-based federal prosecutors are, reportedly, seeking up to $3 billion (just over €2bn) in penalties from the accused.

The charges include bank fraud as well as illegal gambling and money laundering — saying the companies fraudulently avoided the law in order to receive billions of dollars from customers.

It claims the companies deceived banks into processing payments by arranging them to be disguised as transactions with non-existent online companies.

Prosecutors are, in the case of Full Tilt Poker, focusing on a number of bank accounts held with the likes of AIB, Bank of Ireland, NIB, Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Scotland (Ireland).

Full Tilt Poker is operated by a US-founded, but Dublin-headquartered firm called Tiltware. Full Tilt’s chief executive Raymond Bitar — a central figure in the fraud allegations — is also a director of Dublin firm Pocket Kings, which employs between 600 and 700 people in Cherrywood and provides IT support, marketing, customer service and anti-fraud services to Full Tilt.

It is not known what the case means for Irish-based jobs in the Full Tilt business. No spokespeople for either Full Tilt Poker, Pocket Kings or Tiltware were contactable, but Mr Bitar has stated his disappointment in the charges and looks forward to his exoneration.

Meanwhile, the Antiguan government has said the charges mean the US is violating global trade law by shutting down the locally-registered Absolute Poker site.

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