PokerStars in settlement talks with prosecutors

Online gaming giant PokerStars, which saw its access to American customers cut off by a federal indictment a year ago, said Tuesday it is in settlement talks with prosecutors.

Meanwhile, a separate deal involving a French investment group’s effort to buy troubled rival Full Tilt Poker fell through.

Both companies, along with Absolute Poker, saw their websites seized and shut down by U.S. Department of Justice on April 15, 2011, as part of an nine-count indictment charging 11 individuals and three companies with money laundering, bank fraud and operating illegal gambling businesses.

PokerStars, which struck a deal with federal prosecutors to refund money to U.S. gamblers a few weeks after the indictments were unsealed, was given back its website for use in Europe and other markets where Internet poker is legal.

The company repaid American customers some $125 million.

Full Tilt also agreed to repay money owed to U.S. gamblers but never made a payment. The company’s gaming license was revoked by regulators in Alderney in the British Channel Islands.

On Tuesday, rumors surfaced among poker’s blogosphere that PokerStars might be interested in acquiring Full Tilt. The Associated Press reported a purposed deal by Groupe Bernard Tapie to acquire Full Tilt for
$80 million had collapsed.

“We’ve had a lot of enquiries and there’s lots of speculation on the forums, so I wanted to address the PokerStars chatter,” Eric Hollreiser, head of corporate communications for PokerStars, said in an emailed statement that was posted on the company’s corporate blog.

“As you know, PokerStars is in settlement discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice,” Hollreiser said. “As such settlement discussions are always confidential, we are unable to comment on rumors. As soon as we have information to share publicly, we will do so.”

A Washington-based attorney for Groupe Bernard Tapie told The Associated Press that the potential buyer couldn’t agree with the Department of Justice over how quickly players with money tied up on the site would be repaid. Prosecutors reportedly changed their offer earlier this month and wanted players paid in full within 90 days of a sale.

In the past few months, at least five individuals indicted a year ago have taken plea bargains. In March, Chad Elie, the only Las Vegas resident charged in the matter, pleaded guilty and faces six months to a year in prison at an Oct. 3 sentencing.

Many of those indicted, including the operators of three online poker companies, have remained fugitives.

Prosecutors have sought $3 billion in money laundering penalties and forfeiture.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.
Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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