Two of the largest US online poker sites have recently shut down all U.S.-facing operations. As of April 15, 2011, U.S. players can no longer play real money games at Full Tilt Poker or PokerStars.
The two online poker sites shut down all American operations after the FBI unsealed indictments against the sites’ owners. It is alleged that 11 people connected to PokerStars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker have committed acts of wire fraud and money laundering.
The FBI claims that PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker employed individuals to act as “payment processors,” in order to facilitate the transfer of online gambling funds to U.S. financial institutions. These payment processors allegedly set up fake companies, including online websites purporting to sell golf balls and jewelry, which the poker sites used to send gambling funds from player accounts to banks untraced.
These payment processing efforts were an attempt to circumvent the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which makes it illegal for businesses and corporations to process gambling transactions in the U.S.
The U.S. Attorney’s press release explains that “because U.S. banks and credit card issuers were largely unwilling to process [poker sites’] payments, the Poker Companies allegedly used fraudulent methods to circumvent federal law and trick these institutions into processing payments on their behalf.”
11 individuals connected to PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker face charges including “Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud and Wire Fraud” and “Money Laundering Conspiracy.” If convicted, some of the defendants could face up to 30 years in prison as well as a $1,000,000 fine.

Online Poker Sites Shut Down as Legal Heat Intensifies

Given the extreme severity of these allegations, the two largest online poker sites shut down to U.S. players indefinitely. American players can no longer deposit at, play at, or withdraw from either PokerStars or Full Tilt Poker.
Any player who attempts to sign up for a real money account using a U.S. address will be denied service. Whether or not PokerStars and Full Tilt will re-open to Americans in the future is unknown.
Players who already use PokerStars or Full Tilt will not be able to deposit going forward. The FBI has frozen numerous bank accounts connected to various payment processors used by both poker sites, leaving the sites’ ability to process American payments all but crippled.
U.S. players with existing accounts will find they are unable to sit in at real money tables. It has also been reported that American players can no longer open the Full Tilt Poker software at all, following a recent software update.
Players with bankrolls sitting on either site will need to be patient, as the sites’ official withdrawal policies seem to conflict with how they are actually processing cashouts. Full Tilt maintains that U.S. players can still withdraw money as usual, however many players are reporting denied cashout requests and bounced checks.
Existing PokerStars customers are experiencing the same issues. Some players have been able to successfully cash out via wire transfer, while others have been unable to get withdrawal requests approved.
Now that two of the biggest U.S.-market poker sites have shut down, many players are wondering what the future holds for online poker. While PokerStars and Full Tilt shutting down is a big hit to the game, the sky has not fallen just yet. As of now, there are many online poker sites accepting real money action from U.S. players.

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