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Full Tilt Poker defends itself and its CEO amid FBI crackdown

Poker After the indictment of its chief executive in a federal crackdown on Internet poker sites, Full Tilt Poker defended its business as a legal and harmless game enjoyed by players around the world.

Raymond Bitar, the company's chief executive, and employee Nelson Burtnick were charged Friday in New York with bank fraud and money laundering, along with nine other people, including executives at rival sites PokerStars and Absolute Poker.

Bitar and Burtnick are outside the country and have yet to be arrested, the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan said. The government also filed a civil suit seeking to recover $3 billion from the companies.

The FBI on Friday shut down the websites of all three poker firms, replacing their home pages with the message: "This domain name has been seized by the F.B.I. pursuant to an Arrest Warrant."

In a news release, Full Tilt called online poker "a game of skill enjoyed by millions of people" and said it remained committed to preserving the rights of poker fans "to play the game they love online."

"Mr. Bitar and Full Tilt Poker believe online poker is legal -- a position also taken by some of the best legal minds in the United States," the company said.

Bitar added in the statement: "I am surprised and disappointed by the government's decision to bring these charges. I look forward to Mr. Burtnick's and my exoneration."

Founded in Los Angeles, Full Tilt moved to Dublin, Ireland, after Congress enacted a 2006 law that bans businesses from taking payments for "unlawful" online gambling.

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-- Shan Li

Photo: A man plays poker on his home computer connected to an Internet gaming site. Credit: Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images.

 
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