After a decade on the run, Scheinberg's case is closed
Online Poker Report

No Prison Time For PokerStars Founder Isai Scheinberg, Orders Federal Judge

Mark and Isai Scheinberg in 2013 phot

Prosecutions stemming from the 2011 shutdown of the world’s largest online poker sites are officially over.

Honoring the recommendations of federal authorities in the Southern District of New York, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on Wednesday sentenced Isai Scheinberg to time served for his crimes related to illegal gambling. The founder of PokerStars, who with his son Mark sold the company in 2014 for $4.9 billion, will also pay a $30,000 fine.

Following his surrender to federal authorities last year, Scheinberg is the last of the 11 Black Friday defendants to receive his sentence. He pleaded guilty in March to one count of operating an illegal gambling business, which could have landed him in prison for 12-18 months. The government, however, recommended a lesser sentence due to mitigating factors.

“I am pleased that Judge Kaplan has determined today not to impose a prison sentence in my case,” Scheinberg wrote in a statement to Online Poker Report.

“PokerStars played an important role in creating today’s global regulated online poker industry by running an honest and transparent business that always treated its players fairly. I am particularly proud that in 2011, when PokerStars exited the United States, all of its American players were made whole immediately.  Indeed, PokerStars reimbursed millions of players who were owed funds from other online companies that could not or did not repay those players.”

Scheinberg’s wife Dora accompanied him at sentencing, according to Inner City Press.

PokerStars’ Scheinberg sentenced to time served

Scheinberg’s counsel argued that he deserved a lesser sentence because:

  1. His lawyers at the time advised him that online poker operations did not violate federal law.
  2. He had ongoing discussions with prosecutors and surrendered voluntarily to US authorities.
  3. Attitudes toward online gambling have changed in the past 10 years.
  4. PokerStars assumed $304 million of Full Tilt Poker’s liability to players.

Prosecutors rejected the first three arguments.

The government’s sentencing memorandum contends that Scheinberg’s time as a federal fugitive and his failure to contest the charges demonstrates an understanding of the serious nature of his crimes. He only surrendered when it became apparent that he could not elude justice indefinitely. And although several states have legalized online poker in the decade since Black Friday, defendants are judged based on the laws and norms in place at the time of the offense.

Acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss did, however, reference the Full Tilt repayment as part of her justification for recommending a below-guidelines sentence:

“On balance, however, the government believes that the mitigating factors in this case — particularly the defendant’s low likelihood of recidivism, the fact that PokerStars properly segregated player funds, the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities, and the defendant’s good deeds — warrant a sentence below the Stipulated Guidelines Range.”

After surrendering his passport, posting a $1 million cash bond, and spending nine months in the US, Scheinberg will soon be permitted to travel freely once again.

The final chapter of the Black Friday saga

Scheinberg’s sentencing marks the end of a story that’s been running for nearly a decade. Though it was his name on the original indictment, United States v. Scheinberg, 10 others were charged at the same time. Some faced trial immediately, while others followed Scheinberg’s lead in attempting to stay out of the reach of US authorities for a time.

Raymond Bitar was the CEO of Full Tilt and the first of the company leaders to face justice. He initially remained outside the US but surrendered to authorities after just 15 months. He told staffers at the time that this was “part of the process” of facilitating the deal between PokerStars and the Department of Justice to reimburse former Full Tilt players. Like Scheinberg, he was sentenced to time served, but had to forfeit all his assets, including several homes and $40 million in cash.

Scott Tom was part owner of Ultimate Bet, which was already notorious for a major cheating scandal even before Black Friday happened. After hiding out in Antigua for six years, he returned to the US to face his charges in 2017 and pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor. Unlike the other owners, he didn’t escape incarceration entirely, but was given a token one-week jail sentence and a $300,000 fine.

Punishments were generally more severe for the other eight defendants, as they were directly involved in handling payments. Those working with Ultimate Bet, Ira Rubin and Brent Beckley, received the harshest of these, at 3 years for Rubin and 14 months for Beckley. On the other hand, Scheinberg’s director of payments at PokerStars, Paul Tate, got off relatively easily, forfeiting $119,000 and avoiding any prison time.

Alex Weldon contributed to this report.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.
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