It has been two years since an indictment was unsealed that named management of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, as well as some payment processors with violating US gambling laws. The seemingly invincible online poker rooms were taken down, at least temporarily. PokerStars dropped US player immediately and Full Tilt Poker did so the next day. Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet stopped accepting deposits from US players but allowed them to play for weeks. What happened over the next two years has shaped the US online poker industry. For those familiar with the industry, here is a trip down memory lane.
April 16, 2011 – Cereus lost their Absolutepoker.com and Ub.com domains and announced that their new domains were absolutepoker.eu and ubpoker.eu.
April 17, 2011 – Cake Poker dropped echecks as a deposit option for US players. They were the last US facing online poker room to accept echecks from US players. PokerStars also quietly dropped the guarantees on their tournaments by 30-50%.
April 19, 2011 – Cake Poker Network skin Victory Poker banned US players. Victory Poker had previously announced that they would move to the Cereus Network. While not announced on this day, these plans were dropped.
April 20, 2011 – PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker settled with the Department of Justice. This gave the poker rooms the right to use their Pokerstars.com and Fulltiltpoker.com domains. They were also given the green light to pay US players through the US banking system without interference by the DOJ.
April 21, 2011 – Cereus rejected all pending cashouts. All cashout requests were reversed. Limits were imposed on players outside the US. These cashouts were capped at $500. US cashouts were dropped altogether. All US players ended up getting stiffed. Players outside the US were only able to recover a small fraction of their overall balances.
April 22, 2011 – Microgaming skins still in the US market under the Level 11 group banned all US players.
April 26, 2011 – PokerStars opened cashouts to US players. Jazette Enterprises, parent company of Sportsbook.com and PlayersOnly, announced that they would stop accepting new US players. Existing players would still be allowed to play.
April 28, 2011 – PokerStars cashouts begin to arrive in US players’ bank accounts.
April 30, 2011 – The Tampa Bay Times published an article about Cereus ownership and the structure of the company. This is the first time information about the Cereus ownership structure became public knowledge. Madeira Fjord was named as an empty shell that owned $250 million worth of debt from the company. The interest rate was 12%, meaning Madeira Fjord shareholders were due $30 million in interest each year. This obligation was not being met by Cereus, meaning the company’s debt holders would go be forced into liquidation. Madeira Fjord contacted shareholders to tell them that they had not been getting paid by Cereus for months and that no future payments would be made. While many players were in denial, this was the day it became obvious that Cereus was broke and players would never get paid in full.
May 3, 2011 – Cereus contacted their employees disclosing that a vast majority of them would be laid off. Haley’s Poker Blog also published a number of internal emails on the topic.
May 4, 2011 – Merge Gaming announced that they would stop allowing rakeback for new players on June 1, 2011. Existing players would continue to receive rakeback after that date as long as they created their account through a rakeback affiliate.
May 5, 2011 – Cereus claims that, contrary to all of the evidence, they are not going bankrupt. This would turn out to be just another one of their lies.
May 6, 2011 – Innovative Data Solutions, the customer service center for Cereus, was raided by law enforcement. The raid appeared to be related to employees not getting paid. PokerStars offices in Costa Rica were also raided but it appeared there was no other action taken.
May 10, 2011 – Cereus claims that they settled with the DOJ. This turned out to be yet another lie.
May 18, 2011 – UseMyWallet and QuickTender disclosed that many of their transfers to the US were getting intercepted. They speculated that they may be the victim of a US law enforcement investigation.
May 19, 2011 – Cereus finally rolled out a system to block US players from the network. Players immediately discovered a backdoor so that they could continue to play. This involved identifying existing players and joining a waitlist for tables that these players were already seated.
May 23, 2011 – Several major US facing sports books, poker rooms and processors were taken down in what has been dubbed Blue Monday by the online gambling industry. The list of targeted sites included Bookmaker, Betmaker, BetEd, Doylesroom and True Poker. The domains for these companies were seized as well as some funds. This bust also took down UseMyWallet/QuickTender. It turned out that all of these sites were using a bogus payment processor named Linwood Payment Solutions. The Maryland US Attorney’s Office was behind this investigation. BetEd would close, but the other gaming sites continued to operate. This event motivated most US facing sites to stop accepting players from Maryland.
May 25, 2011 – UseMyWallet and QuickTender stopped servicing US players after their accounts and recent wires were seized.
June 1, 2011 – Victory Poker closed with only 24 hours notice. Unrelated, rakeback is no longer offered at Merge Gaming and new US players are no longer accepted either. Merge Gaming already announced these changes before the Blue Monday busts.
June 16, 2011 – Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed AB258 into law. This law compelled the Nevada Gaming Control Board to adopt online poker regulations by January 31, 2012.
June 29, 2011 – After 2.5 months of not paying US players and slow paying rest of world, Full Tilt Poker’s license in Alderney was suspended. The site was taken offline on this date. This is the day that rumors became the truth; Full Tilt Poker was unable to pay players.
August 24, 2011 – The Nevada Gaming Control board released a draft for Nevada online poker regulations. The draft was opened for public comment.
September 15, 2011 – RakeReduction closed without any notice. The rakeback affiliate had not been paying players, affiliates and vendors since Black Friday. Many shady business dealings were exposed after the closure including forcing the founder out in what appeared to be an illegitimate manner. The most affected players were receiving Bodog rakeback. Bodog had stopped allowing rakeback for new players since June 2010, meaning that these players had no other options. While Rake Reduction continued to receive revenue from these players, rakeback customers at Bodog failed to receive their payments. Rake Reduction sub affiliates that operated through the Rake Update brand were also stiffed.
September 20, 2011 – The DOJ amended the Black Friday indictment to include a civil complaint accusing Ray Bitar, Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer and Rafe Furst of operating a ponzi scheme. The complaint also alleged the group laundered proceeds from Full Tilt Poker.
September 29, 2011 – The Alderney Gambling Control Commission revoked Full Tilt Poker’s gaming license.
October 13, 2011 – Merge Gaming quietly begins accepting new US players. Players from Maryland, Washington, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, New York and Washington D.C. are still restricted.
October 21, 2011 – The Cereus cashier goes offline and never returned. The site is for all purposes officially dead. The player count quickly dropped to zero on this news.
October 27, 2011 – Cereus admits publicly that they are broke. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission posted a notice from the company on their website that they will enter liquidation.
November 1, 2011 – Groupe Bernard Tapie announced that they reached an agreement to purchase Full Tilt Poker. This required a vote among Tiltware shareholders. This acquisition attempt would ultimately fail.
November 2, 2011 – MoneyLineWallet, the last widely accepted US friendly ewallet, went offline. Some functionality was lost from the website on October 24th. MoneyLineWallet had accepted deposits from players at Cake Poker, True Poker, Everleaf Gaming and a number of US friendly online casinos.
November 30, 2011 – Bodog announced that all tables will move to the anonymous format. All usernames were removed from the system.
December 2, 2011 – It was discovered that five companies had applied for an online poker license in Nevada. The companies were South Point Poker, 888 Holdings, International Game Technology, Bally Technologies, and Cantor Gaming. On this same day, a large database of UB players was leaked. Thousands of UB players saw their personal information exposed in a massive security breach.
December 5, 2011 – A bug was discovered by HHSmithy that allowed savvy players to detect Bodog usernames. The poker room announced this bug was fixed quickly.
December 15, 2011 – Bodog moved all US players to Bovada, which is essentially the same company managed under a different brand name. On this same day, Full Tilt Poker’s parent company voted to forfeit all assets to the US Department of Justice.
December 20, 2011 – Brent Beckley, indicted on Black Friday, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to his payment processing work for Absolute Poker and UB.
December 22, 2011 – The Nevada Gaming Control Board passed online poker regulations.
December 23, 2011 – In a major reversal, the Department of Justice released an opinion that the Wire Act only pertains to sports betting. According to this opinion, it does not cover online poker, casino games or lottery tickets.
February 7, 2012 – Washington DC, which had legalized online poker and casino games before Black Friday, repealed the law before these games ever went live. The games would have been offered through the district’s lottery.
February 9, 2012 – Everleaf Gaming pulled out of the US without notice blaming a threat they had received months before from US law enforcement. Payments to US players had slowed down considerably in the months before the announcement. Virtually all US players would get stiffed on the money owed to them by Everleaf Gaming.
February 28, 2012 – Calvin Ayre and two others were indicted for illegal gambling pertaining to their US facing sports book business. The Bodog.com domain, which was dormant but forwarded to Bovada.lv at the time, was seized.
March 14, 2012 – The Iowa Senate passed a bill that would allow online poker. The bill was never read in the House and died a few days later. A similar bill died in the 2013 Iowa Legislature.
March 23, 2012 – Utah banned online gambling and automatically opts out of any future federal legislation. Utah has no forms of legalized gambling within their borders.
March 27, 2012 – Payment processor Chad Elie pleaded guilty for his role in processing online poker payments before Black Friday. He would not serve his jail time until February 2013.
April 24, 2012 – PokerStars is rumored to have reached a settlement with the DOJ to purchase Full Tilt Poker and repay players across the world. On that same day, Groupe Bernard Tapie would announce that their attempts to buy Full Tilt Poker had failed.
May 30, 2012 – Lock Poker left Merge Gaming after a number of disputes. They purchased the Cake Poker Network and renamed it Revolution Gaming. Lock Poker has struggled with payment processing to players across the world ever since.
June 21, 2012 – Bally Technologies and IGT become the first companies to receive approval for a Nevada interactive gaming license.
June 27, 2012 – John Campos received a three month prison sentence for processing $200 million in online poker transactions to US players.
June 29, 2012 – Delaware became the second state in the US to legalize online poker. They were the first state to legalize online casino games.
July 24, 2012 – Brent Beckley is sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for his role in payment processing at Cereus.
July 27, 2012 – It is now official, PokerStars will acquire the assets of Full Tilt Poker. They are obligated to pay a total of $731 million between repaying rest of world players and penalties that may ultimately be used to pay back US players.
August 23, 2012 – South Point Poker becomes the first Nevada licensed online poker operator. At the time, it was expected that South Point Poker would be the first Nevada online poker room. It appears that will not be happening now.
September 13, 2012 – The Reid/Kyl bill is leaked. It would have allowed states to enter a federal online poker network but ban most other forms of online gambling. The bill never received a vote on either floor of Congress.
September 15, 2012 – Cardroom International filed a claim on the seized Full Tilt Poker assets. Cardroom alleged that they were the rightful owners of at least some portion of the software due to an agreement between Jet Set Poker and the Jesus Coalition, which was allegedly headed by Chris Ferguson. Cardroom acquired Jet Set Poker’s assets through a bankruptcy auction. Cardroom did not prevail in their suit, but this may have slowed down refunds to US players.
September 19, 2012 – PokerNews released the Lederer Files, an in depth interview with Howard Lederer.
September 20, 2012 – PokerTrip Enterprises is approved for a Nevada interactive license. They become the first licensed online poker affiliate company in the world. Licensing affiliates is unique to Nevada as the rest of the world does not have this requirement.
November 2, 2012 – Chad Elie opened a Twitter account and began an autobiography about his role and position of the US Government’s behavior as it pertained to Black Friday.
November 6, 2012 – Full Tilt Poker reopened to players outside the US under new ownership. The Rational Group, parent company of PokerStars, refunded money to virtually all players outside of the US that day. Full Tilt quickly became the second largest online poker room. They have since fallen to number four. Players in the US must continue to wait for their money. Players are not given rakeback on the new Full Tilt Poker and affiliates were never paid for money owed before Black Friday. All players were also removed from all affiliate accounts.
November 26, 2012 – The US Commodities Futures Trading Commission filed a civil suit against Intrade, the prediction market leader. Intrade allowed players from around the world to place wagers on political, economic and entertainment events. Intrade immediately banned all US players.
December 7, 2012 – The parent company of PokerStars announced that they were in talks to purchase the Atlantic Club casino in Atlantic City, NJ. The two would agree to terms in January 2013.
December 19, 2012 – Howard Lederer settled his civil suit with the DOJ.
February 7, 2013 – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that would have legalized online poker and online casino games. The bill was sent back to the legislature to make several changes.
February 20, 2013 – Chris Ferguson settled with DOJ.
February 26, 2013 – Governor Christie signed the state’s online gambling bill into law. New Jersey is the third state to legalize online poker and the second state to legalize online casino games.
March 7, 2013 – A bill in Illinois is introduced that would legalize online poker and casino games in the state. It would also expand brick and mortar gambling. At this time, it is the only state with any online gambling legislation pending where there is any real chance of passage.
March 11, 2013 – Intrade, the defendant of a civil suit with the US Commodities Futures Trading Commission, closes without any notice to players. The company would later approach players in an attempt to reach a settlement.
March 13, 2013 – Fulltiltpokerclaims.com was launched. This website will eventually be used to disperse payments to US players that lost funds due to the failure of Full Tilt Poker.
April 8, 2013 – Ray Bitar, the former head of Full Tilt Poker, entered a guilty plea for his involvement in the US facing business. It was also disclosed that he has heart problems that require a heart transplant immediately.
April 10, 2013 – Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a ban on sweepstakes games in Florida. The bill may indirectly ban online gambling in the state by describing any computer that accepts a bet, code or deposit as an illegal machine.
April 11, 2013 – Legends Sports is indicted for accepting at least $1 billion in sports bets since 2008.