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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Seized Online Poker Funds May Not Be Returned for Years

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The case that began in June of 2009 looks as if it may go unresolved for years. When more than $30 million in online poker funds were seized in June 2009 by the Southern District Court of New York on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, there were holes in the case, as warrants were not presented in all cases and the banks that forfeited the money were not well-informed. However, with one of the payment processors affected being recently denied its claim to $13 million of that money, the ongoing Rennick case may deter any reimbursement for up to several years.

The funds were originally seized from banks like Wells Fargo and Alliance Bank in an attempt to put a stop to payment processors who were transferring money on behalf of online poker players to and from online poker sites. The reason from the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the case, Arlo Devlin-Brown, was that the bank accounts constituted “property involved in money laundering transactions and illegal gambling offenses.” Though companies affected like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker immediately rerouted those funds to customers through different payment processors so players could be assured of payments, those companies with seized funds would have to file motions in the federal court system to ask for the funds to be returned.

Account Services was the only one to do so, and the Motion for Return of Property was filed on July 10, 2009 in a San Diego court where the company is based. In the same breath, the Poker Players Alliance filed papers to request standing in the Account Services and other related hearings as a friend of the court, a motion that was granted. But the Account Services case was not heard until the following month, at which time U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller denied the petition to have the $13 million returned.

The argument in the Account Services case was based on the allegations that the Department of Justice used questionably legal/illegal tactics to obtain and hold the money, in addition to the fact that the seizure was illegal because poker is a game of skill and should not be considered gambling under the current law. But prosecutors in the case maintained that the lawsuit was irrelevant considering Account Services is owned by Douglas Rennick, the Canadian businessman recently indicted by the DoJ for fraud and money laundering. Judge Miller agreed and urged the defense to attempt to recover the funds after the Rennick case is resolved.

It could be years. The Rennick case is fresh, and though the indictment has been issued, extradition of Rennick to the United States for prosecution has not been requested yet, meaning that the actual start of hearings in the case could easily be pushed until 2010. In the meantime, Account Services attorney Michael Pancer noted that his client is being advised of “other avenues” to try to reclaim its $13 million.

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