Settlement deals reached between federal prosecutors and three Internet poker companies call for more than a half-billion dollars to be paid to the government, enabling U.S. poker players to recover several hundred million dollars lost when the companies shut down U.S. operations last year, authorities said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand approved settlement agreements with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. A separate agreement between the government and a third company, Absolute Poker, had not yet been approved by the court.
PokerStars said in a release that its deal with the U.S. Department of Justice calls for it to pay the government $547 million over three years, with the money being used in part to reimburse former U.S. customers of Full Tilt Poker who are owed $184 million. PokerStars said it has acquired the assets of Full Tilt Poker.
The U.S. operations of the companies were shut down when the government last year brought criminal charges against various poker company executives and those who helped the companies process money.
Among those caught up in the case was Utahn John Campos, then the vice chairman of SunFirst Bank of St. George who had arranged for the bank to process payments from online players for PokerStars and Full Tilt beginning in late 2009.
Campos pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of causing the bank to process illegal gambling payments. He was sentenced last month to three months in prison and is to start serving his sentence in September.
Campos agreed to the processing deal after being approached by St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson and a partner. Johnson was not charged in the case but his partner was, and he also has pleaded guilty.
The government said the poker company settlements do not constitute admissions of wrongdoing, liability or guilt by any of the parties. The deal with PokerStars allows it to re-enter the U.S. market if laws change to permit online poker.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the deals will "allow us to quickly get significant compensation into the victim players' hands."
"We are delighted we have been able to put this matter behind us, and also secured our ability to operate in the United States of America whenever the regulations allow," said Mark Scheinberg, chairman of the board of PokerStars.
Last year, the U.S. government brought charges against 11 individuals who had played management roles in the companies or had helped them process billions of dollars in gambling proceeds through U.S. financial institutions. All but one pleaded guilty. Charges are pending against four other defendants who remain at large.
The government accused the companies of fooling banks into processing the money by making it seem that funds resulted from payments to hundreds of nonexistent online merchants selling merchandise such as jewelry and golf balls.
The United States said that one-third or more of the billions of dollars went directly to the poker companies as revenue through the amount they charged each player to join a game.
Tribune reporter Tom Harvey contributed to this story