Surprise, Surprise FTP Speaks and Says Little

A full month after Black Friday Full Tilt representative FTPDoug (actually, the real FTPDoug left the company a long time ago and they just use the name since he had some credibility on 2+2) announced:

NOTICE (UPDATE): The comment I made about FTPDoug was made in error. Someone I used to work with at FTP mentioned that he was posting as FTPDoug regarding a specific topic that had come up in conversation. I, wrongly, assumed that he had always been FTPDoug. The person who I thought it was had only used the FTPDoug account to announce some information on 2+2.

The confusion seems to be over the fact that while one individual does do most of the FTPDoug postings the account is an FTP account and thus others have used it to make announcements and answer questions that the actual FTPDoug may be unable to address.

Most of the uproar about who FTPDoug is and references to this post have to do with Michelle Clayborne’s rant about the Phil Ivey lawsuit which was posted on 2+2 under FTPDoug’s account.

Michelle Clayborne is not FTPDoug (though her words were posted under his account). As I mentioned, the account is also used as a general purpose (press) release channel. Also, several people (mostly poker journalists) mention getting this directly from Clayborne’s PR agency before it was posted on 2+2.

Whether someone else posted the Clayborne response under FTPDoug’s account or if FTPDoug was instructed to post it is not clear. However, I do know that FTPDoug is not high enough up the food chain to pen something like that himself. He’s a very valuable member of the FTP organization but the reality is that something like that rant did not go out to the general public without Ray Bitar’s (as well as other high ranking executive’s and perhaps the legal department’s) review and approval.

I apologize for being originally mistaken on this and any of the confusion my misunderstanding may have caused.

When are we getting our money back?

– Here’s the official statement about where we currently stand on US withdrawals:

“Since April 15th and the days immediately following, Full Tilt Poker faced numerous challenges and hurdles to ensuring the smooth operation of its international business and the orderly return of US player funds. FTP has worked tirelessly to address these issues and has made significant progress on both fronts.

FTP’s international business operations are returning to normal while we focus on ensuring the safe and orderly return of US player deposits. We are absolutely committed to making sure that US players are refunded as soon as possible. We apologize for the delay and the fact that we underestimated the time it would take to work through these issues. We will update our US players when we have more specific information to provide.”

So basically the message here is that there is no new information. Full Tilt is still unable to pay players back their balances. As I speculated previously this is looking more and more like Full Tilt has cash flow issues.

But the more worrisome part of this is the constant refusal to disclose what the holdup is or to give any sort of rough timeline. You know the pressure is on Full Tilt right now and they know going out to a crowd like 2+2 with nothing is just inviting all sorts of speculation and flaming but they did it anyway. To me that means that they’re really in a bad position. If you had anything positive to report you would throw it out there as a bone to give people hope. But to build up everyone’s hopes of a major announcement and then drop this turd of an update reeks of desperation and panic.

If it wasn’t a cash flow issue why aren’t they screaming at the top of their lungs that they’re not having any financial issues? The rumors are all over 2+2, here, and other sites. Why not use the big 5/15 update to dispel these rumors? Why word your official statement in such a way as to fuel continued speculation?

Either Full Tilt has the worst public relations people in the world or there’s something going on that Tilt doesn’t want anybody to know about.

This should be a huge, huge wakeup call to the poker community regarding the gaming commissions Stars, Tilt, and UB/AP are licensed under. You’ve got UB/AP’s offices being raided in Costa Rica, accusations that key executives in the company are involved in money laundering and what have we heard from Kahnawake? Nada. Zip. Zilch. A full month after Black Friday you’ve got Full Tilt still issuing statements that sound more nervous than a whore in church on Sunday and Alderney isn’t really saying anything other than they’re keeping an eye on things.

The truth of the matter is that these gaming commissions have very little power to enforce their rules. If UB/AP decides to pocket player money and move to Antigua there’s absolutely nothing Kahnawake can do except revoke their gaming license. That’s it. Then they form a new corporation, hide the involvement of anybody associated with the old UB/AP, and pay their fees and get a new license under a different corporate name.

On one hand that’s not a criticism of the gaming commissions themselves because they were never intended to be a real investigative and enforcement body. On the other hand, it is a criticism of the gaming commissions because they were formed simply to be cash cows for the respective governments forming them and never given the resources to do the kind of job it would really take in order to protect customers.

Right now if a poker room suspects me of cheating or using a bot they can seize all the money in my account. Somehow that’s legal. They don’t have to prove anything. If they feel that the evidence they’ve collected is sufficient then your funds are seized, your account closed, and you have absolutely no ability to refute their claims or present your own evidence. You can file a complaint with the gaming commission but you have very limited legal rights.

If I am suspected of cheating in Las Vegas the police are called and I will be arrested. I can keep my money (though it may be held as evidence). I am also afforded all the rights under the legal system. I have a right to a jury trial. I have the right to an attorney. I have the right to the presumption of innocence until a jury deems that the prosecution has presented a case that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that I actually cheated.

And right now we’re seeing how this lack of representation under the law impacts us. If Full Tilt was licensed in the US federal agents would be kicking in doors and a team of accountants would be figuring out if Full Tilt was still solvent. But Full Tilt is not licensed in the US. It’s licensed in Alderney. None of us vote in Alderney. Nobody is going to get voted out of office if Full Tilt implodes and players lose money.

Same thing in Kahnawake. None of us live on the Kahnawake reservation. We can’t vote. We have no rights there. There’s absolutely nothing we can do if Absolute/UB rip off the players. There will be no outside investigation. Nobody will be held accountable.

5 thoughts on “Surprise, Surprise FTP Speaks and Says Little”

  1. @Michael: I would disagree with your government angle in that PS has paid back over $100 million already. There is nothing about the charges that prohibits them paying back US players.

    I sorta agree more on the long-term view. I think that PS will try to negotiate their way out. But in the context of payouts I disagree.

  2. Bill,

    Another excellent post. I have agreed with almost everything you have said post-black friday. I am looking at this situation from a slightly different angle:

    The DoJ seized accounts of the big 3 along with their access route to players and are effectively holding them for ransom. The ransom they are demanding is probably detailed information about the entire organisation. The reactions of the big 3 have been –

    PS – They dont want to give the info but as we are more concerned about our international reputation. They are willing to negotiate a good discount from the ransom and possible future fines, money will be returned quickly to players and hope that if the US market opens, there may be a way back in. They can also take the moral high ground having put players money first. As they had twice the business of FT pre-BF they must have the deepest pockets and can afford to take a hit.

    AP/UB – They did not want to pay anything and were going to hold out. Then the world realised that they were about to go bust and they had to pay the DoJ whatever to help create the illusion that they are not screwed and are attempting to pay players. The fact that they are limiting the money returned to non-US players says everything you need to know about these crooks.

    FT – They don’t want to pay the ransom and unlike AP/UB have no need to do anything quickly. If they have accepted that they will never play in the US market again the only reason they care about paying US players is the reputation and standing with non-US players. The problem that US players have here is that there a lot of non-US players really dont care. The reason that they cannot get their money is because of their government, not anything that FT is doing. I think (for reasons I will explain below) that the money is sitting quite happily and very safely in a bank account earning huge amounts of interest for FT. They will pay it back but as the situation stands there is no real rush. As they cannot give back the US players the money until they have negotiated a suitable ransom with the DoJ and they will be driving a very hard bargain, knowing that they are happy to let the US players money sit there for as long as it takes. I am not sure what FT would have to gain in this situation by continually making statements to appease US players who will never return as customers. Anything they do say will be twisted by some poster on 2+2 and used against them

    As a UK player with access to all rooms I have only ever really played at FT and PS and more at FT. I am still playing there but only keeping a tiny amount of money in my account. I am impressed by the way PS have handled everything but not enough to move just yet. If there is ever a reasonable doubt (and it would not take that much) about FT, I will be off to PS as fast as I can probably writing off the small amount in my FT account.

    On the second point regarding the gaming licenses that these three sites have. I used to be very concerned about the fact that no one knows who these people really are. However, I now have a very different way of thinking, at least about the Isle of Man and Alderney, when it comes to the safeguarding of every players funds on a site. If PS or FT to go bust I am confident that the vast bulk of players money will be returned. I dont have the same confidence about tribes though.

    Alderney has a population of about 2500 (although the Channel Isles have a total of about 150,000) and the Isle of Man has a population of 80,000. These are tiny specs on the World that should have no bearing on anything. However, they are vitally important in the world of finance. These are major European tax havens where the super rich back their cash. The only way you can normally get permanent residency in the Channel Islands to be born there or to be a multi-millionaire. There entire economy is built on 2 things, beneficial tax laws across the world (when you own the politicians it is not difficult for these to be passed) and trust.

    When you are super rich and depositing vast sums of money into a small island bank you want to be sure that it is going to be there for you when you go back to collect it. The UK government is happy to insure every UK citizen’s bank account up to £50k. I know that if I ever do get £50k in my account and the bank goes bust I will still get my cash back. The super rich do not have guarantees like that though. They have expensive insurance policies but look what Bernie Madoff managed to do.

    If FT and PS went under and all the players fund were not returned smoothly and quickly the super rich who bank in the Isle of Man and Alderney would want to know what was going on. These islands are so dependent on these people trusting them with their money they are not going to let some internet poker site make them look bad in the eyes of the super rich. PS and FT knew this and this is no doubt why they will have agreed to some pretty stringent rules which I am sure will include the ring fencing of players money. These sites must be paying a fortune for having these licences. Why else would the tax havens risk their reputations especially as that is all they really have?

    This also explains why they do not care about individual players money no matter how large the sum. Normal people may be shocked when we that FT has closed down an account with $10k+ plus for no reason what so ever. However, these gaming commissions could not care less about (what in their world) a trivial sum of money. They are not going to lose any face over this at all. Players might be up in arms but they are not bothered about that.

    As I said above, I really do not feel that the tribes who are licensing these poker sites have quite the same motivation for protecting their reputation. If something happens to AP/UB I expect the Kahnawake to walk away denying it was their responsibility. What would they lose?? A small number of B+M clients but probably nothing worth worrying about. The very fact that they are in anyway involved with AP/UB tells me everything I need to know about them. This in some small way shows the importance of reputation.

    I have no idea if any of this is actually the case and these are just a different way of looking at the situation. To throw one last cat amongst the pigeons though, I don’t actually think that the DoJ indictments are anything to do with the actual game of poker in anyway. Looking at a far bigger picture, I think that it is an attempt by a major nation state to defend both its borders from an illegal attack by a foreign multinational corporation. These sites broke the laws AGREED on by the ELECTED representatives – people may not like the laws passed and it was done in the worst possible way but that is DEMOCRACY so deal with it. Nation states have every right to defend cyber borders in exactly the same way as they would defend their physical borders.

    I think there are a number of reasons that they have targeted online poker. It takes huge amounts of money out of the US economy and puts nothing back, they don’t pay any tax and they don’t employ any US workers. Secondly it is probably the largest cyber threat that the US is currently facing after piracy and the music and film industry are fighting that battle. Third, poker is only played by a minority of voters in the US and many of them rank poker as a minor concern when choosing who to vote for (sorry to all you 2+2ers who think that your senator cares that you aint voting for him next time, especially the ones who voted democrat last time – cause voting republican is really going to help your cause). Fourth, the small issue of the fact that these companies BROKE THE LAW and allowed god knows what to take place in terms of money laundering, illegal money transfers etc. None of these reasons are actually about poker the game but are all totally valid reasons for going after the sites. We are in a new cyber age and governments are slowly catching up.

    Sorry for the rant. First time I have really gone off on one since Black Friday even though I hear so many of the same views regurgitated on various posts across the net. It is always good to read your views Bill and I think we actually agree on most of them even though you are often taking a contrary view point to your average poker poster. It is about time that US poker players accepted the fact that not only does the world not revolve around the US but the US does not solely revolve around poker. Laws are made and we have to accept that.

    A very final point though. I have decided that I will be using a tactic that I have learned from the major sites and the next possible opportunity. Next time the bank refuses to give me a £500 loan, I will be buy the bastard and demanding that they lend me the cash. I know it is really wrong but I just have so much respect for PS and FT for doing that, fantastic.

  3. My personal experience with Full Tilt is much more of a ‘despondent face palm I cannot believe their customer service and communication is this bad’ – so although this looks like a major financial issue (and I am not saying it ain’t) I am not ruling out complete incompetence at communicating – simply because trying to get a response out of them for ANYTHING as a player and journalist in the last 5 years has been near impossible.

    Either way, they have survived as well and as long as they have down to sheer good software.

  4. It truly does look like Full Tilt is just stalling for time to find the money. I don’t actually think AB/UB will pay anyone at all and I still think they have super shady operations over the superuser scandal. Honestly though, PokerStars came out of this looking the most “legit”, barring you ignore the whole trying to buy a bank thing :(. I know I was paid and to my knowledge all my forum members were as well. I still seem to be earning affiliate earnings, though how long that lasts; I don’t know.

Comments are closed.