Poker site CEO arrested on new Ponzi scheme charges

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Ray Bitar, Full Tilt Poker’s CEO, was arrested yesterday on new charges that the poker czar has been involved in a Ponzi scheme.

Bitar had been avoiding arrest by living in Ireland; he was taken into police custody Monday as his plane landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The CEO planned the return to the U.S. to face the charges and turned himself over to law enforcement willingly, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Online poker itself has been a beleaguered market over the past year and a half as the federal government debates the legality (or illegality) of online gambling. Currently, Full Tilt’s site is being held hostage by the FBI and U.S. Justice Department, with players’ funds frozen until further notice.

“For the last 15 months, I have worked hard on possible solutions to get the players repaid,” said Bitar in a statement released today.

“Returning today is part of that process. I believe we are near the end of a very long road, and I will continue to do whatever is required to get the players repaid, and I hope that it will happen soon.”

Bitar and many of his colleagues in the world of online poker are being charged with such crimes as illegal gambling, bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. Additionally, Bitar and other Full Tilt executives have been accused of running a Ponzi scheme, as the company allegedly used funds taken from players to pay back other players cashing in their virtual chips.

Eventually, Full Tilt was unable to pay back cashing-out players, leading to a civil complaint that sparked the larger investigation.

“I know that a lot of people are very angry at me. I understand why,” read a statement from Bitar. “Full Tilt should never have gotten into a position where it could not repay player funds.”

Currently, Full Tilt is in acquisition talks with PokerStars, a similar site under similar legal duress. The sale could consolidate the two companies’ legal issues and more efficiently negotiate a deal with the Justice Department.

Online poker had previously been a multibilion dollar business in the U.S. alone; that revenue has since almost entirely disappeared, leaving companies such as these practically bankrupt and former “professional” online poker players in search of real work once again.

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