Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN sports cable channel will remove its poker advertising and programming after the government shook up the gambling industry and indicted all websites that sponsor televised poker tournaments. The U.S. froze individual accounts of online poker players in 14 different countries after seizing websites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, major advertisers and sponsors of such televised tournaments. These websites have been charged of fraud, money laundering and of running illegal casino operations.
The FBI has since seized the domain names of five gambling sites, including Pokerstars.com, Fulltiltpoker.com, Absolutepoker.com, Ultimatebet.com and UB.com. These websites were forced to wear display notices imposed by the FBI saying:
“This domain name has been seized by the F.B.I. pursuant to an Arrest Warrant in Rem obtained by the United State Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York….
“For persons engaged in the business of betting or waging, it is also a federal crime to knowingly accept, in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling, credit, electronic fund transfers, or checks. Violations of these laws carry criminal penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.”
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Kelly Langmesser, a spokerswoman for the FBI’s New York office says about 76 bank accounts have been frozen to prevent players from accessing balances held by online betting companies. “We are looking at the funds and accounts to determine if they are the profits of an illegal enterprise,” Langmesser said. “The funds won’t be available until a determination has been made,” she said.
NBC, ESPN, Fox Sports Net and the Game Show Network have been major players in supporting poker. PokerStars based in Isle of Man, Full Tilt Poker based in Ireland, and Absolute Poker based in Costa Rica are the leading online poker sites that are doing business with U.S. companies, according to prosecutors.
“We are aware of the indictment only through what has been announced publicly,” ESPN said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “For the immediate future, we are making efforts to remove related advertising and programming pending further review.”