Federal prosecutors said Wednesday they expect Internet poker companies whose employees are being prosecuted to return money to players, and they're reactivating two domain names to make it easier for that to happen.
The government announced it has reached agreements with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, two companies named in a civil money laundering and forfeiture complaint last week. It will restore the companies' domain names so they can return money to U.S. players, and the deal permits them to continue to let players outside the United States gamble online.
It said in a release that it was prepared to enter the same agreement with a third company, Absolute Poker, if the company chooses to do so.
"No individual player accounts were ever frozen or restrained, and each implicated poker company has at all times been free to reimburse any player's deposited funds," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
The prosecutor said in a release that his office expects the companies to return the money that U.S. players entrusted to them and planned to work with the poker companies to speed the return of funds to players. The agreements also require the appointment of an independent monitor to verify the companies' compliance with the deal.
In a release from its Dublin, Ireland offices, Full Tilt Poker said the deal with federal prosecutors represents "an important first step" to returning funds to U.S. players, but it added that it still faced significant practical and legal impediments to returning funds to players in the immediate future.
It said the law enforcement action meant there was no payment channel through which to make refunds and there was no way for the company to account for the millions of dollars of player funds that were seized by the government.
"The government has not agreed to permit any of the seized player funds to be returned to the players," the company said.
Officials with PokerStars did not immediately return a message seeking comment. But on its website, the company reassured customers, saying: "Your account balance is completely safe. You will be allowed to cash out your balance." It also said its deal with the U.S. government means customers will be able to cash out as soon as a suitable processor for the money is found, possibly within several weeks.
Authorities have announced criminal charges against 11 individuals, including employees of those companies and one other. So far, three of the 11 have been arrested. All are free on bail.
Prosecutors say the poker companies obtained about $3 billion illegally as a result of allowing people in the U.S. to gamble on their websites.
Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.