U.S. online poker update: Player payment news, and poker pro blues

We’re now almost a full month out from April 15, the day that the U.S. authorities seized the .com domains of four of the world’s biggest online poker sites: PokerStars.com, FullTiltPoker.com, UB.com and AbsolutePoker.com.

So, what’s changed since then?
Player payouts status
For starters, an agreement has reportedly been reached between Absolute Poker and U.S. authorities allowing that site to refund player funds.
“Under the agreement, the US Attorney’s Office has agreed to provide all necessary assurances that third parties may work with Absolute Poker to facilitate the return of funds to players located in the US,” Absolute Poker reps stated in a news release. “This provision is an important step to returning US player funds.
“The Company has also … closed its US-facing operations, and it has agreed to the cessation of real money poker play in the US. As such, Absolute Poker has not requested the return of its worldwide domain names, www.AbsolutePoker.com, www.UltimateBet.com and www.UB.com, and today’s agreement does not provide for their return.”
But the agreement is only the first step in restoring funds. “Unfortunately, the Company still faces several legal issues which must be navigated before funds can be paid out to US players,” the statement adds. “The Company’s US attorneys, Blank Rome LLP, continue to work diligently to resolve these issues, which is a necessary further step to facilitate the return of funds to players.”
“Today’s signing of the agreement with the DOJ is an important step towards the safe and efficient return of funds to our US players,” a spokesperson said within the news release. “We can now move as expeditiously as possible to establish proper mechanisms for the return of funds to our US players.” (U.S. authorities have confirmed the agreement.)
Meanwhile, Full Tilt “has started converting tokens from its ‘Take 2’ promotion into cash on players’ account balances, although it is yet to begin processing withdrawals for American players,” EGR reports, adding that “PokerStars has started to convert frequent player points to cash and send players their remaining cash balances, according to a Tweet from professional poker player Josh Brikis.”
Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Executive Director John Pappas has stated that it’s easy to estimate that “tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, have kind of been held up in limbo here because of the DOJ (Department of Justice) action. It’s impossible to put an exact number on it. I would estimate at least $100 million if not as much as $500 million.”
Poker pros laid off
On the heels of this news came the announcement that the roster of 11 poker pros employed by Absolute Poker and UB.com had been laid off. The company said “it has severed ties to players including Joe Sebok, Prahlad Friedman, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and ‘Real World’ reality star Trishelle Cannatella,” the Associated Press reports.
“Regrettably, the negative effect of ‘Black Friday’ has extended to the Company’s highest profile group of poker professionals, known as ‘Team UB’,” company reps announced. “These actions are the result of the severe impact of ‘Black Friday’ on the business, and these efficiency measures have negatively affected not only the financial position of the brands, but also their staff and personnel.”
Read the pros’ reactions to the news (via Twitter) here.
Poker players struggling
Many newspapers are focusing on the “human” effects of the tragedy — the online poker players, who maybe aren’t professionals, but still suffer from the loss og income online poker provided. Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Journal Gazette tells the story of poker pro Matt Matros here, and CardPlayerlcom tells the story of Bryan Devonshire here. ESPN has even more stories here.