SEO implications of poker sites being shut down by the FBI

  • 0
  • April 18, 2011

Most of you will have heard the story about how the FBI has shut down several of the largest online poker websites as part of a money laundering investigation. This is clearly big news as these sites are no longer able to trade until this investigation is complete.

The actual story is very very complicated and beyond the scope of this article for me to explain but the result is very interesting from an SEO perspective. A search for “online poker” in shows the first 3 results are to dead sites – there is no way that the Google algorithm will allow them to stay at the top for very long. When a site has some downtime or a temporary change that renders it “unoptimised” then Google normally keeps the rankings for a week or so. I’m expecting these sites to disappear over the next few days.

Online poker sites

Long term the damage is going to be huge. Online poker is a huge keyword and if the sites are offline for months I bet that they sites will struggle to regain rankings for it in a 12 month period.

You can see how the sites look at present in the screenshot below or by visiting or

FBI poker

The lesson to be learnt here is that .com domains are perhaps a risky thing to have for a UK business.

A summary of the story is below, via Ars Technica:

Online gambling technically became illegal in the US starting in 2006, when legislators barred wire transfers, “payment system instruments,” and credit cards from being used as payment methods for online gambling sites. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t stop many gambling sites from running offshore operations and continuing to grow. Full Tilt Poker, for example, has grown large enough that it regularly sponsors players at the World Series of Poker. The domains of popular poker sites are no secret among online gambling aficionados.

According to the DoJ, however, 11 defendants behind these poker companies used fraudulent methods to trick payment processors like Visa and MasterCard into accepting payments from US users. Members from all three poker sites allegedly “arranged” for payments to be processed for things like jewelry and golf balls.

The DoJ claims that the poker companies were able to accept “billions of dollars” in payments this way, but not without the help of co-conspirators who helped to open up cover-up bank accounts in order to store the money. These people allegedly created fake corporations and websites in order to disguise the payments, using whatever names “the processor can get approved by the bank.”

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • robbio8

    We need the help of all Poker players. There is now a facebook page that has been started to deal solely with this seriously impacting latest poker issue. It is to be the players voice where they will receive ALL available information and contribute their views. It is committed to firstly retrieving all monies owed and then the long term stability of the game. We care about the players not the owners of the sites or Government. Please support by joining the page and tell others. Once we get the numbers on the page we have ideas to share.

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      And what is the status?

  • Geir Ellefsen

    Yeah, I noticed. I’m going to add these sites to a keyword tracker. Wonder how long before they drop?

  • Sara

    Hey, I think the real lesson here is that you have to abide by national laws. Clearly these guys tried to get around the law by “lying” about the services offered so that Visa and Master Card would process the payments from the US. Unfortunately, for foreign players, they could lose their money or they could contact their credit card company to see if they can get the charges credited back to their account. For US players, well, you were participating in illegal activities so you won’t be getting your money back.

  • Kristi Hines

    Good point. Even if they are cleared of charges, those sites will lose so much, from the traffic they are missing out on now while their site is taken over to the search traffic that will take a long, long time to rebuild.

  • Cristina is not a dead site. It is active.

  • lee

    At least if they get the domains back they will be experiencing the ‘beatthatquote effect” and enjoying the benefit of a lot of mainstream media links that would have been out of their reach otherwise.

  • jezza101

    Having worked for an international ecommerce business we created separate sites for each region. Although I guess with something like poker it is attactive to be able to compete against players from around the world on one centralised site.

    From a user experience point of view it makes no sense to penalise “the best” site for being offline for a bit assuming it comes back as it was before. If Google thinks site X is the best then it should still be the same quality when it returns.

    As a user I just want to see “the best” sites at the top. Of course I wouldn’t want to see a site that was unreliable and often offline, but this isn’t the situation here.

  • Ruan Smit

    it’s hard to imagine why people keep working on Black Hat SEO tactics. Sure it pays off (somewhat) but in the long run all of your work goes to waste when you get shut down,removed,blocked or whatever.

    They most likely got what they deserved if they didnt follow the rules.

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  • Cheap Seo India;Sag IT solution

    FBI has done a good job that they has shut down SEO of Poker and casino sites. This is a good news.

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  • Frank

    Strange thing – whereas the laws concerning online gambling become more and more severe in the US and UK, in the EU online gambling is being legalized at the moment. So just come over here or switch into forex 😉

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  • upliftmedia

    I don’t think the lesson to be learnt here is that .com domains are perhaps a risky thing to have for a UK business.

    Only a very small percentage of UK business owners will have reason to be nervous. And for those the lesson to be learnt is to carefully consider the risks and benefits of using a .com domain.

  • James @ Cimex

    @Ruan Where does the article mention the sites being taken down because of ‘black hat seo’ techniques?!

    I do feel for these sites and the online poker industry – it’ll take so much to get them back to their previous positions, mainly due to the lack of future trust (off line & online)

  • Copywriting service

    Sites like these should be shut down forever. They shouldn’t be allowed to function at all.

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  • Colm

    Nice article Patrick I just checked and these sites seem to be back online. I must go check see what happend

  • Marco

    @Colm: PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker switched to .eu and to domains a few days after the seizure. In early May they got their domains back in order to being able to process the payouts of the funds of US players.
    The Cereus netwerk (consisting of Absolute Poker and has however vanished. Their sites are offline, and it seems likely that they will file bankruptcy soon.

  • matelas gonflable

    Good stuff from the F.B.I, unfortunatly these sites will find a way round it!

  • Nikon Monarch Binoculars

    Its a pity some of the top poker sites are shut down, at least its a thumb up for their competitors who are allowed to operate.

  • Akash Kumar

    Well that is a big news. But now i see most of the sites in the top 3 are running.

  • Posicionamiento de web

    That they want to punish the big poker sites is one. But i also heard about a lot of people who still have a lot money in there account hwat they still cant touch.

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