AVP Weekly - Bitar strikes plea deal, Zynga fizzles, and news on the online poker front

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Author Jennifer Newell's poker week in review for April 8-14.

Our consolidation of the week's news is quick and to the point — seven stories, to be exact — for the week ending April 14. Let's go.

No. 1 — Bitar Strikes Plea Deal with U.S. Department of Justice

Former Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar reached a plea agreement with the U.S. government regarding the criminal charges related to Black Friday. Bitar agreed to forfeit most of his personal assets — estimated to be valued at $40 million, including most of his personal property — in order to avoid jail time. He will also plead guilty to two felonies, though the terms of his deal remain closed to the public.

The reason for the plea deal, as revealed by Bitar’s attorneys in a Manhattan court, was Bitar’s desperate need for a heart transplant. He must receive a heart transplant or artificial heart, without which he has only a 50% chance of survival through the next six to 12 months. Bitar will plead his case for a transplant before a medical board on May 6. Lawyers on both sides agreed that a prison sentence would be "extremely incompatible" with Bitar's current dire health condition. The judge in the case will rule on his sentencing immediately following the heart transplant board's decision.

No. 2 — Online Poker Payment Processor Sues Lawyer from Jail

Chad Elie, former online poker payment processor, filed a professional malpractice lawsuit in a Nevada court against his former lawyer, Jeff Ifrah. The complaint asserts that Ifrah provided testimony against Elie and other payment processors to avoid his own indictment, but Ifrah failed to tell the U.S. Department of Justice attorneys that he received commission payments in the amount of $4 million from Elie and his payment-processing company to obtain accounts with Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.

Elie is currently serving a five-month prison sentence for his guilty plea in 2012 for conspiring to commit bank fraud and operating an illegal gambling business. The Las Vegas resident was part of a group of Black Friday indictments issued by the DOJ.

No. 3 — Legendz Sports Indicted by U.S. Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice was busy again, this time with the unsealing of an indictment against offshore sports-betting operation Legendz Sports. The indictment named founder Luke King, other executives, and at least 23 other companies "that allegedly helped move money between gamblers and the Legendz website." According to documents in the Oklahoma federal court, this also includes affiliates.

Legendz, based in Costa Rica and Panama, allegedly accepted wagers from U.S. customers through agents and bookies. The DOJ seeks more than $1 billion in fines, seizure of personal and company assets, and prosecution for numerous criminal charges.

No. 4 — Zynga Launch Provides No Help to Party

We previously reported that Zynga launched real-money online gaming sites in the UK on April 3, in partnership with bwin.party. ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlus Casino offered numerous games, with a plan to expand to Facebook and mobile apps at a later date. Though the initial reaction was positive from players and resulted in a stock surge for Zynga, much of that excitement faded, and Zynga lost ground on the stock market.

Additionally, PartyPoker thought it might see a rise in the number of cash game players with the help of the UK Zynga poker site, but traffic actually fell in the week that followed the launch. After fighting for second place after PokerStars in the cash game traffic numbers, it recently fell to fourth place. (iPoker moved into second, and Full Tilt Poker took over third.) Experts point to difficulties in finding new recreational poker players and keeping them as regular customers.

No. 5 — States Move on iGaming Laws

Kansas recently attempted to ban all forms of online poker and casino games with Senate Bill 2055, but it was voted down. Though the original amendment to the casino bill was voted up 26-11, many Senators switched their votes when the entire bill came before them, resulting in a 24-15 vote to kill the proposal. The law would have made it illegal, a misdemeanor crime, to play online poker or casino games.

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the Internet café and gaming sweepstakes ban last week after it sped through the legislative process. While the bill was aimed at closing storefront gambling operations following a recent scandal, the wording of the bill is ambiguous enough to worry many online gaming advocates. Depending on interpretation, online gaming of all kinds could be banned, as well. In the immediate days following the signing, Club WPT announced that it will no longer accept customers from Florida, as it is considered a sweepstakes site and the company is fearful of a backlash from the new law.

No. 6 — SkyPoker Eliminates Cash for Points

SkyPoker, an independently run online poker room, chose to eliminate its cash-for-points program, effective May 1. The defunct cash-for-points program will be replaced by a program that will offer automatic rakeback to high-volume players, calculated based on monthly points earned. Those earning more than 10,000 points per month will be paid via rakeback through the Priority Club program, with 10,000-20,000 points paying at 20%, 20,001-30,000 points at 25%, and anything more at 30%.

Players must register for the new reward system in order to receive the benefits; though players currently registered for Cash for Points will be switched automatically.

No. 7 — WSOP Online Poker Sites to Begin Beta Testing Soon

Poker players in Nevada anxiously await the launch of several promised online poker websites, and the World Series of Poker site is one of the most highly anticipated. WSOP will be the Caesars Interactive Entertainment skin of the 888 Holdings software platform. Licenses have been issued, and the process of preparing for launch is ongoing. With that, the WSOP publicly announced the imminence of its beta software client for the poker site, which will operate with play money. When the beta site is ready, players will be allowed to play in return for flushing out any bugs or issues before the real-money site opens for business.

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