Two Shutdown Poker Sites to Return Poker Players' Money

PHOTO: Matt Livingston, a professional poker player, and his wife, posed for a family photo last Christmas.
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Two of the three online poker sites shut down by the government last week have cut a deal to return players' money, the Justice Department in New York said today.

The agreements allow for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to use the pokerstars.com and fulltiltpoker.com domain names to facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. players' funds held in accounts with the companies, according to the statement.

"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," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharra said in a statement. "In fact, this office expects the companies to return the money that U.S. players entrusted to them, and we will work with the poker companies to facilitate the return of funds to players, as today's agreements with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker demonstrate."

While only two of the three companies were named in the announcement today, the US Attorney's office said that "the government stands to enter the same agreement with Absolute Poker if it so chooses."

Under the deal, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker agreed that "they would not allow for, facilitate, or provide the ability for players located in the United States to engage in playing online poker for 'real money' or any other thing of value."

Last week, the Justice Department filed a complaint for money laundering, fraud, and violating the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act against 11 individuals who run PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.

After the shutdown Friday, Matt Livingston, a professional poker player in Las Vegas, said he was "devastated."

Livingston, 28, said he and his wife will most likely not be able to move to Colorado from Las Vegas as planned this year if the poker domains are permanently closed. Their offer for their dream home had been accepted and they were hoping to move closer to their family. Livingston, whose income has come solely from poker, mostly online, would have been able to still support his family in Colorado, miles away from major casinos.

Livingston has been playing professionally since August 2008 after he quit his job as a structural engineer. Livingston said he pays income taxes on all his earnings and poker is a "skill game," unlike gambling.

"People have gambling problems but people have problems with almost everything. People are supporting families doing this," Livingston said. "I personally don't see where the great harm is from."

He played exclusively on Full Tilt Poker and had over $40,000 tied up on that site when it shut down.

Since the sites have been closed, Livingston said he has been spending days and evenings at Las Vegas casinos, including at the Bellagio Hotel.

After hearing that he may be able to retrieve his $40,000, Livingston he was "still disappointed" the sites are shut down, "but it alleviates a good chunk of stress."

"At least we don't have our money tied up for no reason," Livingston said.

Greg Raymer, winner of the 2004 World Series of Poker main event, said the Justice Department's decision to close the sites was "wrong." Raymer is also on the board of directors of the Poker Players Alliance, which represents 1.2 million poker enthusiasts in the U.S.

"There are literally thousands of people who make their living playing online poker," said Raymer, who is also an attorney. "They're paying taxes and supporting families."

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