Ex-PokerStars employee avoids prison in U.S. online gambling case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former employee of online gambling company PokerStars avoided prison on Monday after pleading guilty in connection with a long-running U.S. criminal case targeting internet poker firms operating illegally in the United States.

Paul Tate, a UK citizen living on the Isle of Man who formerly oversaw payment processing at PokerStars, had faced up to five years in prison after pleading guilty in October to participating in the operation of an illegal gambling business.

But U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan instead ordered him merely to forfeit $119,000, crediting Tate for facing the charges rather than remaining on the Isle of Man, where he could have avoided extradition.

“Given that you couldn’t be extradited for this, you deserve a world of credit for coming to face the music,” Kaplan said.

Tate told the judge: “I very much regret the choices I have made.”

Tate, 43, was one of 11 people indicted on April 15, 2011, a day dubbed “Black Friday” by the industry, in connection with a U.S. crackdown that targeted online poker companies Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker and PokerStars.

The three companies had become the largest online poker outfits doing business in the United States after Congress banned real-money gambling on internet card games in 2006. Prosecutors also accused the companies of money laundering.

According to prosecutors, the companies tricked banks into processing billions of dollars of illegal Internet gambling proceeds through shell companies that appeared legitimate.

Isle of Man-based PokerStars in 2012 reached a $731 million settlement, including $547 million to reimburse U.S. customers of Full Tilt Poker, which was coming under PokerStars’ control.

Tate worked for PokerStars until 2014, when it was acquired by Canada-based Amaya Inc.

Nine of other individuals charged in the case have also pleaded guilty. Charges remain pending against Isai Scheinberg, PokerStars’ founder.

The case is U.S. v. Tzvetkoff et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-00336.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York