Full Tilt Poker, one of the largest online poker sites in the world, has been subpoenaed by US authorities, and is now the target of an investigation by a federal grand jury in Manhattan. The probe is looking into the fact that Full Tilt offers internet poker services to players in the United States, which may violate certain American gambling laws.
There is currently a lot of speculation surrounding this issue, and few official statements have been released. It seems that the probe also targets prominent American poker players, including Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer, both of whom have been accused of having ties with Full Tilt.
The Financial Times was unable to get statements from the Manhattan US attorney or from justice department officials in Washington. According to a subpoena issued to a witness earlier this week, the probe is looking into possible money laundering violations. Accusations at this level would draw international attention, and are likely to prompt the cooperation of Full Tilt, which is actually based out of the UK’s Channel Islands.
Nelson Rose, an expert on US online gambling laws and an advisor to some companies in the industry, believes the probe is more about intimidation than anything else. Prosecutors try to call online gambling in the US illegal, appealing to the ancient Wire Act and the more recent Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. No US laws, however, explicitly forbid online gambling.
Rose says that investigators are simply calling out high-profile targets in an attempt to scare people into not gambling online. “They are waging this war of intimidation,” he says.
With so much speculation floating around, and so few facts to report, the actual impact of this investigation is difficult to predict. The US government is playing hardball with online poker using one hand, while the other hand drafts legislation that could potentially legalize online poker in the United States. Whatever happens, 2010 is sure to be a big year for online gambling.