Full Tilt Poker May Have Been A Ponzi Scheme

News that Full Tilt Poker may have been a ponzi scheme broke last week when the US Government alleged that, indeed, Full Tilt Poker was a ponzi scheme.

“Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker company, but a global Ponzi scheme,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement Tuesday. The U.S. government views online poker operations, at least those that cross state lines, as illegal.

Even crazier is that two of the most known poker pros, Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson, were implicated as part of the illegal activities.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Tuesday added Ferguson’s name to a civil money laundering complaint, claiming that Full Tilt Poker improperly used funds of online poker players to pay members of its board of directors—including Ferguson and Howard Lederer, a fellow poker champion—$440 million since April 2007. 

To no surprise Ferguson’s lawyers refute that he was a part of a ponzi scheme.

“While the government has obviously taken issue with the underlying activities of FTP, under any reasonable interpretation, the worldwide operations of the online cardroom are not a so-called Ponzi scheme,” said Ian Imrich, a lawyer for Ferguson, in a statement. 

Yesterday it was Full Tilt Poker’s turn to say that they are not a ponzi scheme. Here is their official statement.

“On September 19, 2011, the Department of Justice issued a release stating that Full Tilt Poker was ‘A Global Ponzi Scheme.’  While the government has taken issue with the underlying activities of FTP, under any reasonable interpretation, there is no way to characterize the operation of Full Tilt Poker’s virtual online card room as a global Ponzi scheme.

“A ‘Ponzi’ scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors. Ponzi schemes do not involve any legitimate investment, but rather use the new investor funds to pay ‘dividends’ to the initial investors.

“Despite recent events, FTP remains committed to identifying a suitable investor and paying back its players in full.”

There is a whole lot of mess here. None of the statements that are against Full Tilt NOT being a ponzi scheme say much. I usually live by the motto, where there’s smoke there’s fire and I think FTP stepped into a big one here.

Further, if this is true I can’t imagine Lederer or Ferguson ever showing their faces in Las Vegas or any poker events in the future. This isn’t done yet, but it doesn’t look good for those that have their money tied up with FTP.

Full Tilt Poker Room Shut Down

Full Tilt Poker has had their gaming license and poker room is shut down.  Poker News Daily has more details, but here is enough to hold you in case you’re in a rush.

Today’s action by the AGCC is the biggest blow to Full Tilt Poker in the two and a half months since Black Friday.  In fact, many in the poker community believe it is the final dagger for the once high-flying company.  What had previously been the world’s second largest online poker room by a longshot had already lost half of its player base since Black Friday after it had to shut out all U.S. players.  Now, with poker operations completely stopped for at least a month, the company will fall into an even deeper hole.

I guess Phil Ivey‘s lawsuit may have a little mustard to it.  This can’t be a good sign for Full Tilt Poker.  At the same time I don’t think this has any adverse effect on legalization of poker in America.  I’m sure more domino’s will continue to fall.

ESPN Running Scared From Poker

After last weeks breakup of three major online poker sites ESPN (and their parent company, Disney) has announced that they are removing all poker from the network for the time being.

Walt Disney’s ESPN sports cable channel will remove poker advertising and programming after the U.S. indicted gambling websites that sponsor televised tournaments and froze their bank accounts.

“We are aware of the indictment only through what has been announced publicly,” Bristol, Connecticut-based ESPN said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “For the immediate future, we are making efforts to remove related advertising and programming pending further review.”

This is a very safe play for ESPN.  They were going to lose most of the advertising for their poker programming anyway since Full Tilt, Absolute Poker and Poker Stars made up the bulk of advertising on the shows.

ESPN didn’t state that they’ve canceled all contracts and are out of the business forever.  They are just putting things on hold for TV.  The poker page on ESPN.com is still up and running.  I expect ESPN to seek out other World Series of Poker advertisers and will hold off on committing to airing the tournament until they know how they stand financially.

This is all, still, just the beginning of what’s probably going to be legal online gambling in America…it’s just a matter of when.

UPDATE: ESPN will be airing the 2011 WSOP, but they have removed old programming. Thanks for the heads up BluffMagazine.com

Full Tilt Poker Pulls Out of US Market

I’ve been away for most of the day, but there’s been a lot going on with online poker and the government today.  The latest is that Full Tilt Poker pulled out of US market.  Here’s the press release:

Full Tilt Poker Supports Poker Players And Its Chief Executiv

eDublin Ireland (April 15, 2011)- Full Tilt Poker is saddened by today’s chargesagainst its CEO Raymond Bitar and offers its full support to Mr. Bitar and Nelson Burtnick.

Online poker is a game of skill enjoyed by tens of millions of people in the United States and across the world. And, Full Tilt Poker remains as committed as ever to preserving the rights of those players to play the game they love online. Mr. Bitar and Full Tilt Poker believe online poker is legal – a position also taken by some of the best legal minds in the United States. Full Tilt Poker is, and has always been committed to preserving the integrity of the game and abidingby the law.

“I am surprised and disappointed by the government’s decision to bring these charges. I look forward to Mr. Burtnick’s and my exoneration,” said Mr. Bitar.

Unfortunately, as a result of this action, Full Tilt Poker has decided that it must suspend “real money” play in the United States until this case is resolved. However, Full Tilt Poker will continue to provide peer-to-peer online poker services outside of the United States.

This will continue to develop.  Check this story to get all of the basic info on the online poker seizures.