The parent company of online poker websites Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet said Monday it laid off 11 sponsored poker professionals in the United States as two of its executives face charges of tricking banks into processing illegal gambling payments.
Antigua-based Blanca Games said it has severed ties to players including Joe Sebok, Prahlad Friedman, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and "Real World" reality star Trishelle Cannatella.
"This was a difficult task for Blanca's management, and we are very disappointed that we have been compelled to sever ties with our sponsored pros," the company said. "We are truly saddened that circumstances have dictated this course of action."
The company said the indictments unsealed April 15 mean the company can't pay players to play poker. The legal actions in federal court in New York targeted 11 executives and alleged associates of Absolute, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, including Scott Tom and Brent Beckley of Absolute.
The indictment said Tom and Beckley were stepbrothers who were principal decision-makers for Absolute.
Sebok, a former Ultimate Bet-sponsored professional who has cashed 16 times at the World Series of Poker since 2005, told The Associated Press that he learned about the layoffs a week ago. Sebok said he has been talking with upper managers at Ultimate Bet since the indictments became public.
"It was obvious that, regardless of what direction things went, that sponsored players in the USA were going to be unnecessary, or certainly far less necessary," Sebok told the AP. "It was pretty obvious, at least in my mind, that we would be let go."
Sebok, popular among card fans with nearly 1.1 million Twitter followers, said he's less concerned about his situation than with American players getting back funds deposited on the sites. He said he hoped it could get done despite hurdles.
"Everyone's way of life has just been uprooted," Sebok said. "(Players) are going to have to rethink how they plan on living, moving forward."
Sebok, a founder of popular poker news site PokerRoad.com where he maintains a blog, said he hasn't yet decided what he will do next.
Blanca announced last week that it significantly reduced its staff as it fully moved away from its U.S. business.
Full Tilt and PokerStars have announced agreements with the Department of Justice to return money to players, and PokerStars says its process has begun. But Absolute has said that while paying players is its top priority, it's reviewing the legal actions with its lawyers before moving ahead to make payments.
Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia.