Next week the founder of the largest online poker site in the industry, former PokerStars owner Isai Scheinberg, will face the music. On September 23, Scheinberg will appear in federal court in New York City to learn what his fate will be from the charges that he has faced for almost a decade. But don’t expect a similar outcome that befell those that were charged along with him in the case.
Most Likely Sentence? Time Served…
When Scheinberg enters the courtroom of U. S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan next Wednesday, he could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison for the charges that he faced. The U. S. Probation Department for the Southern District of New York, however, is recommending that the 74-year old Scheinberg be sentenced to time served. It would be an appropriate sentence for someone of Scheinberg’s age.
For some time, it was thought that Scheinberg would get the upper ends of the punishment scale. Facing a litany of charges after his surrender to U. S. authorities in January, Scheinberg apparently has been able to negotiate a plea deal with federal prosecutors. In March, he pled guilty to a singular count of operating an illegal online gambling business. That charge still had a five-year jail sentence attached with it, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Because of that situation, many federal non-violent offenders have been released from jail and, in Scheinberg’s case, would result in him not even being incarcerated.
End of the “Black Friday” Saga?
Once Scheinberg is sentence next week, it will bring to a close one of the darkest periods ever in the history of online poker, one that the industry has arguably never recovered from since it occurred.
Back in 2011, online poker was at its peak of popularity. Scheinberg’s powerful PokerStars operation reigned supreme over the upstart Full Tilt Poker (and its stable of professionals) and PartyPoker, which had left the U. S. market after the passage of the UIGEA in 2006. Also in the mix was a potential powerhouse in the CEREUS Network, the combination of UB.com (the former Ultimate Bet) and Absolute Poker.
That all changed on April 15. Early that fateful morning, the U. S. Department of Justice executed seizure warrants against the three top online poker operations in the U. S., PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and the CEREUS Network. Charging 11 of the owners and management of those companies with a litany of illegal gambling and wire fraud charges, the DoJ would spend the next decade running down everyone charged in the case.
Eleven Up…Eleven Down
Several of those charged in that original DoJ case, called United States v. Scheinberg, et. al., were caught almost immediately and prosecuted. In December 2011 Brent Buckley, one of the co-founders of Absolute Poker, plea bargained to a 14-month jail sentence. In pleading guilty to bank fraud, Ira Rubin received a three-year sentence. Banker John Campos served three months in prison for a misdemeanor bank fraud charge.
Until Scheinberg’s arrest, arguably the biggest arrests were former Full Tilt leader Ray Bitar and Absolute Poker co-founder Scott Tom. Bitar, who was arrested in 2013, begged the courts to let him off light as he was reportedly close to death; he was sentenced to time served, but the “close to death” statement seems to have been overwrought as Bitar is still alive today and was married in a lavish ceremony in 2015.
Tom came back to the U. S. in February 2017 after negotiating a plea deal with federal authorities. During the summer of 2017, Tom plea bargained the list of charges against him down to misdemeanor count of “accessory after the fact” in transmitting gambling information. He paid a $300,000 fine and was sentenced to a week in jail.
The final man standing was Scheinberg, who stayed in Israel since the charges against him were announced in 2011. It was a trip to Switzerland in 2019 that tripped up the PokerStars founder, where he was arrested by Swiss authorities expressly on the U. S. charges and extradited. In January of this year, Scheinberg returned to the U. S. and was officially charged. Once Scheinberg is sentenced next week, the “Black Friday” saga will end as all parties that were a part of the indictment will have faced justice.