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Students, online community surprised and disappointed as FBI shuts down major poker sites

By Damien Sutevski

April 28, 2011 1:22 a.m.

Correction: The name of the club is Poker Club at UCLA.

Marc Reicher used to play 400 poker hands per hour using only a mouse and a keyboard.

But on April 15, the home page of the second-year math and economics student’s favorite poker website, PokerStars.com, was replaced by this greeting: “This domain name has been seized by the FBI.”

In an FBI crackdown this month, the three largest online poker websites were shut down on charges of illegal gambling activities. Hundreds of thousands of online poker players like Reicher were cut off from the websites and their funds.

The founders, executives and associates of FullTiltPoker.com, AbsolutePoker.com and PokerStars.com were charged with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling. Eleven people have been indicted, but not all have been taken into custody, according to the FBI’s public information office.

The FBI does not have plans to prosecute individual players. The main impact on Reicher, who said he did not suffer a financial hit from the shutdown, is being shut off from a hobby.

Increased legal pressure on online poker sites dates back to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which bars gambling businesses from accepting revenue for illegal Internet gambling. Upon its passage, PartyPoker.com, then the largest online poker website, closed shop to U.S. residents.

Other public poker companies followed suit, but Full Tilt, Absolute and Poker Stars, as private companies, remained open.

Because U.S. banks and credit card companies were unwilling to process payments for the websites, the off-shore companies employed an intricate scheme to trick and bribe U.S. banks to process billions of dollars in illegal payments, the FBI said in a statement.

The shutdown both surprised and disappointed the community of online poker players in the U.S.

One of the largest online poker strategy sites, Two Plus Two, has forum threads hundreds of pages long filled with comments of surprise, denial and anger. One thread encouraged its members to fight back by writing and calling the Department of Justice, the White House and their congressional representatives.

“Online poker is not a crime and should not be treated as such,” said the Poker Players Alliance, an advocacy group with more than 1 million members nationwide, in a statement following the shutdown.
They also reported that an agreement had been reached with the Department of Justice to allow U.S. players to remove remaining funds in their accounts.

Reicher said the shutdown was more of an annoyance than anything else.

“It hasn’t exactly hit me yet,” he said. “I think it’s really going to bother me when I’m craving it more.”

He prefers playing poker online as opposed to in person because he can easily play 10 times as many hands in three to four tables simultaneously. More hands means more money, he said, and online poker players optimize their strategy this way.

But Aman Rangan, a second-year biochemistry student and president of the Poker Club at UCLA, said the shutdown could be beneficial for the future of online poker in the country.

“Some people actually think it’s good that this happened because it’s one step closer to (online poker) actually becoming legal,” Rangan said.

Some are in favor of online gambling in the U.S. but are against sites like PokerStars.com because of the lack of regulation, he said.

“They want sites in the U.S. controlled in the U.S. so they can tax it appropriately,” Rangan said.

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