Science & Technology

Life for Poker

The arrest of online gambling entrepreneur Daniel Tzvetkoff


Daniel Tzvetkoff, a young Australian entrepreneur who co-founded the online payment processor Intabill in 2007, had a brief, flashy run as a multimillionaire before his business collapsed amid accusations of financial mismanagement. But his real crime, according to the U.S. government, was doing precisely what Intabill purported to do: facilitate online payments, including bets by American poker players.

When Tzvetkoff was arrested during a visit to Las Vegas in April, it was the first time anyone had been publicly charged with violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Enacted in 2006, the law makes it a federal crime for someone "engaged in the business of betting or wagering" to accept a payment in connection with "unlawful Internet gambling."

Since Tzvetkoff did not run any gambling businesses, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan accuses him of conspiring with others who do, including the operators of such popular websites as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. The indictment also alleges a conspiracy to violate the Illegal Gambling Business Act. Based on the same transactions, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara threw in two money laundering counts and a bank fraud charge, which alleges that Tzvetkoff misled American financial institutions about where money drawn from their customers' accounts was going.

When the penalties for the four counts are added together, Tzvetkoff faces up to 75 years in prison, plus more than $2 billion in asset forfeiture, for the crime of helping Americans play poker. All this is based on a New York state offense, "promoting gambling in the second degree," that is classified as a misdemeanor and arguably does not cover poker.

Tzvetkoff's unindicted co-conspirators are the same creditors who lined up in Brisbane for the money they said Intabill owed them. Viewed as legitimate businesses in the rest of the world, online gambling companies are treated as criminal enterprises in the U.S., and Tzvetkoff could face life in prison for helping them. 

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.