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Feds seize billion-dollar poker domains

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2011, Domain Policy

Five domain names associated with online poker sites have been seized by the FBI as part of an investigation that has also seen 11 people indicted.

The principals of PokerStars, Absolute Poker and Full Tilt Poker, along with third-party “payment processors”, stand accused of engaging in a massive money laundering scheme in order to accept billions of dollars of payments from American gamblers in violation of US laws.

The charges carry possible maximum sentences of between five and 30 years in prison, along with substantial monetary fines. Two men have been arrested, a third is due to be arraigned, and the remainder are currently outside of the US, according to a press release (pdf).

The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York said five domain names have been seized by the FBI in connection with the prosecutions.

It’s not yet clear which domains have been seized.

From where I’m sitting in London, absolutepoker.com already shows an FBI warning banner, but pokerstars.com and fulltiltpoker.com both resolve normally. I may be receiving cached DNS data.

Blogger Elliot Silver, sitting behind a resolver on the other side of the pond, reports that ub.com is among the seized domains.

Unlike previous recent seizures, which were carried out by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, this time the FBI appears to be the responsible agency.

And this time, these aren’t two-bit file-sharing forums or Chinese knock-off merchandise sites, we’re talking about businesses that are perfectly legal in many jurisdictions, clearing billions in revenue.

But according to US Attorney’s charges, the companies carried out an elaborate plan to cover up the sources of their revenue through third parties and phoney bank accounts.

The companies are even alleged to have made multi-million dollar investments in failing banks in order to get them to turn a blind eye to the illicit gambling activities.

It appears that the FBI went straight to the .com registry, VeriSign, as some of the affected domains appear to be registered through UK-based corporate registrar Com Laude.

If you’re wondering whether this is yet another confirmation that all .com domains are subject to US jurisdiction, this is your takeaway sentence, from Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara:

Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits.

The suits seek $3 billion in allegedly ill-gotten gains to be returned.