By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man accused of processing payments to help online poker websites avoid U.S. gambling laws pleaded guilty on Tuesday to fraud charges.

Ira Rubin, 53, had been charged by federal prosecutors in April as part of a broad crackdown on Internet gambling in the United States, where it has been illegal since 2006.

The owners of the largest online poker companies operating in the United States were also charged as part of the probe, and the domain names Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars were seized.

Rubin pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Manhattan federal court to one count of breaking U.S. laws against Internet gambling and one count each of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud and to participating in a money laundering conspiracy.

He admitted to being a so-called payment processor for the poker operators, who set up fake companies to deceive U.S. banks into transferring gambling proceeds.

"So, the money came from unlawful Internet gambling," asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein.

"Yes, your honor," said Rubin, who was dressed in beige prison garb.

U.S. prosecutors recommended an 18-to-24-month prison term, much less than the 30-year maximum sentence one of the charges carries. Rubin is scheduled for sentencing by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who oversees the overall case, on May 17.

Absolute Poker co-owner Brent Beckley also pleaded guilty last month to similar charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown told the judge on Tuesday that Rubin had helped transfer tens of millions of dollars of illegal Internet gambling proceeds to accounts belonging to the three poker companies.

The government said Rubin lived in Costa Rica for years to avoid a telemarketing fraud charge.

Lawmakers have tried in the past to pass legislation legalizing Internet gambling, which could generate billions of dollars in annual tax revenue.

The case is USA v Tzvetkoff et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-00336.

(Reporting Basil Katz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)