Isai Scheinberg sentenced in final Black Friday case

Jon Pill
Posted on: September 24, 2020 06:07 PDT

Almost a decade after the U.S. first issued a warrant for his arrest, Isai Scheinberg has finally been processed by the system.

Yesterday the court ruled that he would be fined $30,100 and be let off with time served.

This puts the full stop on the final sentence of one of poker’s darkest chapters.

Black Friday

April 15th, 2011 — a date that will live in infamy.

It was the day we logged onto our computers to find the Full Tilt homepage had been torn down and fly-posted over with a message telling us that “this domain name has been seized by the F.B.I.”

It was also the day that The U.S. Department of Justice announced the Federal Criminal Case against various online poker operators. United States v. Scheinberg et al. put eleven people on trial for criminal activity in parallel with United States v. PokerStars et al. which went after the organizations they ran.

Together these were the official and officious parts that made up the whole of Black Friday. United States v. Scheinberg et al. put some of the people charged behind bars with alarming alacrity. Like Ira Ruben, who was serving time within a year of his arrest.

But it has taken nine-and-a-half years for the anti-poker Feds to catch up with Scheinberg himself.

On the lam

Scheinberg was, in those days, an enormous deal in the poker world. As well as founding PokerStars, he was a devoted campaigner for better poker regulation in the U.S. He and the Wynn corporation were teaming up in 2011 to lobby for precisely that.

"We must recognize that this activity is occurring and that law enforcement does not have the tools to stop it," Mr. Wynn said, just weeks before the warrants came for his co-lobbyist Scheinberg's arrest.

Scheinberg headed back to Canada and kept his head down.

Run to ground

In January this year, Scheinberg journeyed to Switzerland from one of his part-time homes in Canada or on the Isle of White. Once in Switzerland, he was brought in by Cantonal police after the U.S. made an extradition request.

He then surrendered to the U.S. authorities in the terminal of a Swiss Flughafen, before being bundled onto a flight out to New York. Once he touched down in NYC, it was off to court.

He was looking at an array of charges but pled down to one in March. Even then, he was still looking at up to five years in prison. So a nominal fine and rapped knuckles seems like good value for him.

A key factor in the leniency of the sentence passed by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan is the 2012 deal in which PokerStars bought out — and covered the debts of — Full Tilt Poker. This deal made a lot of players whole. Scheinberg then sold his shares for a touch under $5 billion and got out of the game.

The light sentencing this week must come as a relief to Scheinberg. And any sentencing at all will come as a relief to the team of prosecutors who can finally send a decade-old file down to the archiving room.