Editorial: Full Tilt Poker Scandal Continues To Divide Poker World

By Earl Burton

The opinions in this editorial do not reflect the positions of the ownership or management of Poker News Daily.

It’s going on six months now since Full Tilt Poker, the former number two site in the online poker industry, had its license revoked by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, almost nine months since the news broke that the management of Full Tilt Poker had nearly drained the coffers of players’ money and almost a year since the “Black Friday” indictments started this ugly chain of events. In that span of time, the poker world has been divided – and not equally – as to who to believe: that those in charge of Full Tilt knew nothing or that there was grand conspiracy.

A simple look at two of the most respected voices in the poker community over the past few weeks demonstrates both sides of the issue.

Daniel Negreanu has not held back his disgust over the actions of Full Tilt Poker, letting his voice be heard over a variety of media. Earlier this month in an interview with Poker Player UK, Negreanu expressed the opinion that the entirety of the Lederer family was “scoundrels” (amid other incendiary comments) and he didn’t stop there. In a blog posting on his Full Contact Poker site, he enunciated his views even more, stating that “Ray (Bitar) is a buffoon, Howard (Lederer) is arrogant and Chris (Ferguson) is a liar.” Just last week prior to his deep run at the Latin American Poker Tour Grand Final, Negreanu took it a step further with a video blog, saying that he would have no problem with “Vegas justice” on Lederer in that he should be “bashed in the nuts with a baseball bat.”

After those vitriolic outbursts from Negreanu, the “Godfather of Poker,” Doyle Brunson, decided it was time he put his two cents into the mix. In a blog posting on his own website – and after admitting it was his own personal opinion – Brunson stated, “Was Full Tilt guilty of gross negligence and terrible mismanagement? Yes, of course.” He then attempts to defend two of the alleged perpetrators of the Full Tilt fiasco, Lederer and Ferguson, in a logical look at the situation.

Brunson states he had inside knowledge from Jack Binion, who at one time was potentially looking at purchasing Full Tilt, that Ray Bitar took over control of the entirety of the Full Tilt operation in 2008, at the suggestion of Ferguson. As the site grew, Bitar began to hand out huge checks to the members of Team Full Tilt and the board of directors, leading Brunson to ask, “If you were a stockholder, would you question the management of a company sending you hundreds of thousands of dollars each month? I doubt you would.”

Once issues began to arise for Full Tilt, Bitar allegedly continued with the huge payouts while trying to figure a way out of the situation. “Bitar might have worked things out, but Black Friday happened,” Brunson states. He also believes that none of the stockholders knew anything about the issues with FTP, writing, “I’m not defending nor persecuting anyone. Ferguson had a lot of faith in Bitar. I have been in contact with Lederer and, when someone I’ve known for years, trusted, and respected looks me dead in the eye and says he didn’t know about the financial problems, call me a big old Texas sucker because I will believe them.”

As you can see, when two of the poker world’s most respected members cannot agree, there are bound to be plenty of questions.

When did members of the board of directors and/or the members of Team Full Tilt know anything? This is the nagging question that many have over the Full Tilt tragedy. If those either in charge of the direction of the company or those representing the company were “in the dark” as to what was occurring, then they aren’t good businesspeople (a factor that Brunson alludes to in his blog). If they knew – and kept on taking the money – then it does border on criminal the activities they conducted.

Are Bitar, Lederer and Ferguson the “fall guys” for Full Tilt’s failure? Because they have allegedly received a sizeable chunk of money for their operation of the company, they have borne the brunt of the poker world’s outrage. At the same time, however, perhaps Lederer and Ferguson are as clueless as Brunson states. Maybe even Bitar was simply operating the business to the best of his abilities and, through the bad timing of the “Black Friday” indictments, the mismanagement of Full Tilt was discovered. As we have seen over the past couple of years, businesses make bad decisions all the time that eventually end up costing them severely, even to the point of dissolution.

Finally, to what extent should the players behind Full Tilt Poker be held accountable? As stated previously, Lederer, Ferguson and Bitar are the faces that have been blasted by the poker world, but what of some of the other members of Team Full Tilt? Should Phil Ivey be held liable for the actions of the organization? What about the players who allegedly owe money to Full Tilt from loans handed out by management? What is the level of blame on the other members of Team Full Tilt? Brunson states in his blog post that “I don’t want to keep them from rejoining the poker world. Where do you stop the level of responsibility?”

As always with highly charged debates – and as with most things in life – the answer to many of the questions (and more) probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. But the ongoing silence of the many players in the Full Tilt Poker fiasco – as well as the molasses-like pace of any resolution of the issue – only seems to be further inciting the ire of the poker.

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