Founder of Irish-based Full Tilt Poker pleads guilty to fraud

Raymond Bitar ordered to forfeit $40 million after he pleaded guilty to two counts in Manhattan federal court yesterday

A US court yesterday ordered Raymond Bitar, founder of Irish-based Full Tilt Poker, to forfeit $40 million after he pleaded guilty to offences related to illegal gambling and fraud.

Bitar was chief executive of Full Tilt Poker, whose main operations were based in Dublin, and whose new owner, PokerStars, had to pay $730 million to clients as part of a rescue deal last year.

Online gambling
Bitar was one of 11 people charged by the US government in April 2011 in connection with the online gambling sites Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker.

He was arrested New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport on his return to the US from Ireland last July.

The same day US attorney Preet Bharara named him in a revised indictment alleging he and another man used funds from online players to finance Full Tilt's operations and pay its owners, a charge to which he pleaded not guilty.


However, appearing by video link from California, Bitar yesterday pleaded guilty to two counts in Manhattan federal court. He was sentenced yesterday to time served and ordered to forfeit $40 million.

John F Baughman, his lawyer, had told US district judge Loretta Preska last week that both sides were discussing a deal that would allow Bitar to avoid prison and obtain a heart transplant. At yesterday's hearing, his lawyer told the judge that Bitar would enter a heart-transplant programme on May 6th.

Money laundering
Bitar was originally charged with gambling, bank fraud and money-laundering in connection with his operation of Full Tilt Poker. The group's marketing and services hub, which traded as Pocket Kings, employed over 200 people in Cherrywood, Dublin.

Bitar was a director of the Irish companies, also named in civil complaints filed in the US and settled last August.

Prosecutors claimed in an indictment that he defrauded poker customers by lying to them about the security of the funds in their accounts. They said Bitar promised clients their funds were protected in segregated accounts, whereas Full Tilt used them to pay the chief executive and the company’s owners more than $430 million. The company owed US players $350 million, the indictment said.

Online gambling was illegal in the US at the time that original charges were made against Bitar and other executives in 2011. Full Tilt’s problems meant it lost its gambling licence in 2011, forcing it to cease trading and lay off large numbers from Cherrywood.

PokerStars took over the business last year, and relaunched the brand after repaying clients.The company now employs between 175 and 200 people in Cherrywood. – Additional reporting: Bloomberg

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas