By Brendan Sasso - 08/01/12 02:37 PM EDT
Two major online poker companies, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, agreed to pay a total of $731 million as part of a settlement with the Justice Department on Tuesday.
Federal officials shut down the two sites, along with Absolute Poker, last year over bank fraud and money laundering charges.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is leading the prosecution of the companies, said the settlement will "quickly get significant compensation into the victim players’ hands."
In 2006, Congress made it a crime for a company to accept money from Americans for online gambling. But online poker sites, based offshore, continued to thrive, accepting billions of dollars.
According to the Justice Department, the poker sites disguised the money they received from gamblers as payments for online goods like golf balls and jewelry. The deception allowed them to process payments from major U.S. banks and credit card companies, according to prosecutors.
Full Tilt Poker is also accused of running a massive Ponzi scheme. Prosecutors say by 2011, the company owed $160 million to U.S. players, but only had about $60 million in its bank accounts.
"Today’s settlements demonstrate that if you engage in conduct that violates the laws of the United States, as we alleged in this case, then even if you are doing so from across the ocean, you will have to answer for that conduct and turn over your ill-gotten gains,” Bharara said.