Two online poker sites shut down by the federal government last week have been permitted to start up again, but only to help players get their money back, authorities said.
Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars regained access to their domain names after striking agreements with the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, which Friday accused founders of the sites of bank and wire fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling.
The agreements prohibit the sites from allowing patrons in the U.S. to play for money on the venues. But Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars have free rein outside the country.
The U.S. attorney's office said it might strike the same deal with Absolute Poker, another shut-down site.
The restoration of the sites "will facilitate the return of money so that players can register their refund requests directly with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker," according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.
"No individual player accounts were ever frozen or restrained, and each implicated poker company has at all times been free to reimburse any player's deposited funds," the statement said.
But Full Tilt Poker's site used for playing for money was not operating as of Wednesday afternoon. The company, based in Dublin, Ireland, issued a statement saying that there were "numerous legal and jurisdictional issues" with getting money back to patrons.
"Unfortunately, there remain significant practical and legal impediments to returning funds to players in the immediate future," the statement said.
The PokerStars site was up and running, and contained a message that said, "All existing United States PokerStars customers are entitled to the full return of any funds held in their accounts, and PokerStars will work diligently to expedite those withdrawals."
PokerStars is based in Britain's Isle of Man.
Even with the possibility of getting deposited money back, "players are still in pain," John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance advocacy group, said in a statement. Congress should regulate online poker as a legal activity, he said.
"Millions of Americans are being denied their hobby, avocation and in many cases their livelihood because they remain unable to play poker on the Internet," Pappas said. "At a time of such economic weakness in the U.S., citizens expect their government to be wholly focused on improving their way of life through job and revenue creation, not attacking their personal activities."