New buyer doesn't mean Full Tilt players will get paid
You really can’t blame Full Tilt players if they weren’t exactly doing handstands after the news broke a few days ago that a French businessman/politician/actor had purchased the failing company. But if you’re bobbing up and down in cold ocean water, you scan the horizon for any lifeboats, and Bernard Tapie right now provides the best hope that money will someday get back into the players’ accounts.
The details of how that happens is anyone’s guess, since Tapie’s lawyers and the United States Dept. of Justice still have to sit down and discuss how to make things right, and the DoJ still is convinced that Full Tilt TV personalities Jesus Ferguson and Howard Lederer raided the till.
But – and to be truthful this but is about the size of Vince Wilfork’s – there finally seems to be some good news in the Full Tilt saga. Since the DoJ slammed the door on the Full Tilt [plus Absolute Poker and Poker Stars] sites, five months of headlines have produced nothing but bad, and worse news.
You would think the government would be busy on tax day, but on April 15 the DoJ changed the online poker world – perhaps forever – by closing down the three sites and alleging that the companies sidestepped U.S. laws regarding payment processors and credit cards. Besides the processors, the government indicted the owners of the sites, including Full Tilt’s Ray Bitar and Nelson Burtnick. Eleven people in all had to lawyer up real fast.
The DoJ’s stock and trade is prosecution, not justice, so the humorless folks who brought the charges didn’t seem all that concerned about the millions of dollars that players might be losing. Still, within a short time arrangements were under way for Absolute and Poker Stars players to get their money back. When the same process didn’t start at Full Tilt, red flags were raised on every continent.
Among those hoisting the flags were the people at the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, which is an island e-commerce licensing center located eight miles from France and 60 miles from Great Britain. It issues permits for Internet gambling companies. If you want to run a gambling site, you need to talk to the AGCC.
The AGCC didn’t waste a lot of time before dealing with Full Tilt, especially after word got out that players weren’t receiving their money. In June the AGCC revoked the licenses of companies through which Full Tilt served its players, after a six-day investigation in which the licensing body concluding that “FTP had fundamentally misled AGCC about their operational integrity by continuously reporting as liquid funds balances that had been covertly seized or restrained by US authorities, or that were otherwise not available to the operator.”
In the news business that statement was a classic case of burying the lead, because the funds otherwise not available to the operator may have turned out to be money that Ferguson and Lederer, Full Tilt creators and spokesmen, were stuffing into their duffle bags.
That’s what the DoJ alleged, anyway, when it charged the two in what it termed a massive Ponzi scheme when it updated the indictments a few weeks ago. With Lederer and Ferguson pilfering the accounts, says the DoJ, Full Tilt was forced to pay winners through new deposits, and when the legal dust settled, the company reportedly owned $360 million and had $60 million on hand.
After a couple of hearings, Alderney decided enough was enough, and last week it pulled Full Tilt’s license to operate. FTP’s lawyers said the action would hamper its ability to repay players, but the statement was drowned out by derisive laughter.
Enter Bernard Tapie, a businessman who is credited with turning around a foundering Adidas company in the 1990s and who by all accounts now has a written agreement to take over Full Tilt – assuming that things go well with the Justice Department.
Just what a “favorable resolution” means is anyone’s guess. For Tapie that probably means getting what was once the world’s second-largest online poker site without having to assume massive debt, or at least getting his accountants access to banks statements belonging to Lederer and Ferguson.
For Full Tilt’s current owners, it probably means being able to walk away from a sticky situation without going to prison. For millions of poker players, most of whom are in Europe and North America, a favorable resolution means getting back most, if not all, of the money that was in their accounts but now may have changed hands several times.
The DoJ, for its part, will no doubt have a few questions for Mr. Tapie, who spent some time a French jail for shenanigans relating to fixing the result of soccer games involving a team that he owned in the 1990s. He’s also been prosecuted for tax evasion and fraud, and his various enterprises have been in and out [he’s currently out] of bankruptcy.
Whatever. At least the Tapie/DoJ process is starting.
For players who for the past four and a half months have been wondering about whether they will receive money they are owed, the news was greeted somewhere between holding a winning lottery ticket and a letter from Ed McMahon and Publisher’s Clearinghouse telling you that you may be a winner.
Judging from poker message boards, cautious optimism seems to be the current mood for players. That’s still a big improvement over the pall that the closure had cast over the industry since April 15.