Will Online Poker Players Ever See Their Money Again?

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After the three biggest poker websites in the U.S. were shut down on Friday, the big question that every gambler wants answered is: “What about my money?”Thousands of players had money on deposit with these websites — money that had been won or not yet gambled, and still technically belongs to the customers.

With the websites offline, gamblers have now lost access to those accounts. According to posters on some poker forums, a few players were able to request a withdraw of their money before the sites went completely dark, but since that usually involves the printing and mailing of a physical check, no one knows for sure if they’ll ever see that cash.

According to the indictments, the Justice Department froze about 75 bank accounts belonging to the three websites. The exact amount of money in each account and who that money actually belongs to is not known at this time. It will probably take a thorough accounting of each company’s records to know exactly where it came from and where it should be allocated.

We talked to a spokesperson in the U.S. Attorney’s office who would not comment on the specific issue of customer accounts, but did provide a copy of both the criminal indictment and the civil complaint. We haven’t yet fully digested the 80-page document, but it does appear that the investigation is targeting the profits made by the poker sites. They have not being asked to forfeit that money given to them for gambling. There’s no mention of seizing all assets or forcing the businesses to cease operations completely — unless that becomes necessary to pay their $3 billion in sought penalties.

In 2007, a similar case was brought against Netteller, an online payment processor that was also accused of working with gambling sites. They eventually reached a settlement with the government, paid fines, and stayed in business, and (as far as we can tell) most of their customers did get their money back.

The good news for gamblers is that these sites can still operate in the countries they were set up in and can still deal with poker players in other nations where online gambling is not illegal. That means it’s highly unlikely that these companies will completely go out of business.

If that’s the case, the money is still there. (A statement from Poker Stars does say the money is safe, but that message seems mostly directed toward European players who can still gamble.) Eventually, the sites will probably be allowed to resume business in U.S., provided they don’t offer “real money” games to Americans.

So once the criminal and civil cases are resolved and all the accounting is sorted out, players will likely be able to get their money back… but that could be a long, long time from now.

If there are any poker players out there who had money with one of the affected sites — Poker Stars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker — let us know your experience. Were you able to access your account, request a withdrawal, or actually get a check? We’d love to hear from you.

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