Government Halts Full Tilt Claim Reimbursement

4 years ago
US Government Halts Full Tilt Claim Reimbursement
13 May

Since Black Friday on April 15th 2011, where the US government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) seized assets and bank accounts of online poker giants PokerStars and Full Tilt, poker players have been fighting a seemingly endless battle to recover their funds that were seized from them.

Many players were completely wiped out when they awoke on the morning of April 15th to find that they could no longer access their bankrolls. To those who had only a small amount of money on these poker rooms, it was an irritation. For those poker players, many of whom played poker for a living with no other means of income to support themselves, they were devastated. The poker forums were littered with heartbreaking anecdotes from poker players who were given no warning this might happen and paid a very heavy price for trusting those who, it turned out, did not warrant their trust.

Fast forward just over four years and there was light at the end of the tunnel. The Garden City Group (GCG) were placed in control of refund petitions and players began to be repaid. Players devastated on Black Friday had rebuilt their roll from scratch over the years and were boosted by an unlikely return of their former bankroll. They could finally move on and even those who had yet to receive their money saw that refunds were being made and the stress of thinking their money was lost forever will have been lifted for the first time in years.There was something to look forward to at last.

Unfortunately for some players this week brought about a devastating and unfortunate setback. Approximately 1500 players were notified via email by the GCG on 6th May 2016 that their petitions to the DOJ for refunds had been rejected. The statement read as follows:

GCG has been informed that the [DOJ] has denied approximately 1,500 Petitions. Petitioners flagged for denial have been notified via email. Please be sure to check your email account's spam or junk folder to ensure the message was not filtered. Denied petitioners have ten days to appeal the decision."

Not only was their petitions for a refund denied but they had only ten days from the date of the announcement to lodge a formal appeal or their refund claim would be indefinitely closed and any chance of obtaining their refund lost forever.

I would imagine all poker players feel it is natural justice for 100% of players money to be returned to them, but naturally the conditions of refund must be met. It is highly recommended that action is taken by any player caught up in this situation as a matter of urgency. Check your spam box and check any old email accounts you still have access to just in case the email is sitting dormant in a place other than your prefered inbox. It will be too late to act once the DOJ’s deadline has passed.

Gary Hurst, 34, is a well-known professional poker player and 2+2 authority on cash game strategy. Gary had thousands of dollars seized on Black Friday and played as El Nino 1 on Full Tilt Poker. He said:

I finally had my bankroll returned to me in January of 2016 some four years after Black friday. Getting the money back was a nice bankroll boost at the time but the real injustice is that I needed the money in 2011, not in 2016 when I had time to rebuild my bankroll and get back on my feet. I feel sorry for the people that have had claims rejected for likely frivolous reasons. The amount of money we are talking about is likely insignificant to everyone but the petitioner. To them it's about getting back money that was rightly theirs and should not have been seized in the first place.”

The DOJ clearly want to put this matter to bed following the announcement by Pokerstars parent company Amaya that the platforms of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker will finally merge on May 17th. Closure, of a kind, is approaching but there remains this unfortunate uncertainty for those affected by this announcement.

The rejected claims contain “deficiencies” according to the GCG and it is believed that many of these accounts are classed as “affiliates” of Full Tilt Poker. This means that these accounts received bonuses from Full Tilt for encouraging new players to sign up for an account with Full Tilt poker and subsequently these new players deposited money and participated in real money poker games. In the eyes of the DOJ, this could be interpreted as these accounts having engaged in the breaches of the laws that led Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars falling foul of the US legal system and suffering the consequences on Black Friday.

Obviously the players themselves argue that they were unaware any illegality was, or could have been taking place at the time and they would argue they noted the feedback from Full Tilt themselves before proceeding. Full Tilt made clear that they had taken advice from their legal advisers who had concluded that Full Tilt were not breaking the law and thus they continued to serve the US poker market. There had been no precedent for the arbitrary seizures that made Black Friday so infamous and so shocking at the time. Of course we would all be more careful today, but then we all learn from hindsight.

The 1500 or so outstanding refunds account for 6% of the total number of refunds the GCG aimed to make. Whilst it is certainly pleasing that 94% of refunds have been made, allowing players to rebuild their lives and their poker career as they see fit, true closure can only be obtained for the poker community as a whole if all players receive their bankrolls. I sincerely hope this comes to pass.

Black Friday and the subsequent years of upheaval in the online poker community will forever be a black spot on our games amazing history. If you are able to do so, act now to avoid being another anecdote in the painful episode of online poker’s darkest period.

Perhaps as we recall Black Friday in 2011 as the darkest days of online poker we may look back on May 17th as the day when online poker finally closed the door on this painful period and started the journey towards recovery, perhaps even one day returning to global poker games.

We all want online poker to be a safe, exciting and profitable experience. We also want those players affected by this week's announcement to get all of their money back. We might even be able to win some of it from them in the future, but for now we stand with them in their fight for justice and their refund.

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Malcolm comes from Consett in the North East of England and is an avid poker player and writer.Read more


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