Absolute Poker Agrees to Return Funds to Players Following U.S. Shutdown

Absolute Poker of Costa Rica agreed to return funds owed to U.S. customers and prohibit deposits of American players, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York said today. The agreement permits foreign-based online poker players.

The agreement, announced in an e-mailed statement, follows agreements two other online poker companies, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, arrived at with Bharara last month which facilitate the return of money to players. The founders of all three companies faced charges of illegal gambling.

On April 15, Bharara announced an indictment against the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker alleging the three companies circumvented a 2006 federal law barring banks from processing payments to offshore gambling websites.

All three companies “are moving forward with the process of returning the funds they owe to their U.S. customers,” Bharara said in the statement. “This office expects the companies to return the money that U.S. players entrusted to them.”

The agreement “expressly allows for” players outside the U.S. to play “online poker for real money,” according to the statement.

Lawyers for Absolute Poker, Marc Rothenberg and Jerry Bernstein, didn’t immediately return calls made after business hours seeking comment.

PokerStars, based on the Isle of Mann, Ireland’s Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker of Costa Rica are the leading online poker sites doing business with U.S. customers, according to prosecutors.

The Internet poker market was $5.1 billion last year, 7.1 percent higher than 2009, according to U.K.-based H2 Gambling Capital, which supplies data on the industry. The global online gambling market now is about $30 billion.

The case is U.S. v. Scheinberg, 10-cr-00336, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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