Full Tilt Poker boss turns himself in to US authorities
THE Dublin-based chief of online gaming website Full Tilt Poker has turned himself in to US authorities and pleaded not guilty to charges of illegal gambling and that the online poker operator defrauded its players.
Raymond Bitar had been working at Full Tilt's headquarters in Cherrywood, Co Dublin, and had not returned to the US since charges against him were first announced in April last year.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan accused 11 people at Full Tilt Poker and two other firms of fraud and money laundering among other charges. The US government also seized their internet domain names.
Mr Bitar pleaded not guilty to nine criminal counts including illegal gambling, money laundering and wire fraud charges.
Online gambling has been illegal in the United States since 2006, the year Mr Bitar moved Full Tilt's operations to Ireland.
The company employs more than 400 people in Dublin through its holding company Pocket Kings.
The Irish business has a reputation in the industry for paying high wages but demanding long hours, including weekend and overnight work from staff.
It has also been noted for its lavish catering facilities that include catering overseen by a Michelin-star chef.
Free-spending Christmas and summer staff parties have seen staff being put up in hotels overnight, fed lavishly and having entertainment flown in from as far away as Cuba.
Problems with Full Tilt first emerged 15 months ago when a poker tournament in Cardiff was initially postponed because the required entry fee for a number of Full Tilt contracted players was not paid on time.
Full Tilt was then hit by US authorities who accused the firm of not segregating clients' funds properly and using client money to run the business.
Last September Pocket Kings announced it had begun consultations on cutting its staff here by 250.
Since unveiling the case, prosecutors have expanded both their civil and criminal charges against Full Tilt. They say it operates as a Ponzi scheme and paid its directors more than $440m (€350m) while defrauding players, even after the charges were filed. (Additional reporting by Reuters)