What happened to Full Tilt Poker?

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In Part I, we discussed the origin of “Black Friday” and how Poker’s Black Friday had come about in 2011, including the role of Ray Bitar who had conceived the Full Tilt Poker online web site and included Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer and Rafe Furst as co-founders. Now, let’s discuss what happened after it became highly successful.

Understandably, because of his impoverished early life, Bitar had a strong desire for greater wealth which led him to criminal action, stealing funds from the Full Tilt Poker players’ accounts — over $390 million in total.

In 2006, the U.S. had introduced the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), making it illegal for online poker sites to serve U.S. players.

One of Full Tilt Poker’s competitors, PartyPoker, withdrew from the U.S. market, leaving players searching for a new site. Despite this new law, Bitar decided that Full Tilt Poker would continue to accept U.S. customers. As a result, the site nearly doubled in size.

Lederer, a resident of Las Vegas, had been highly regarded in the poker world, having won two World Poker Tour titles, 44 cashes in World Series of Poker tournaments and two gold bracelets The “Professor,” as he was known to many poker players, had built an estimated net worth of $60 million. As one of the founders, Lederer served as president of Tiltware LLC, the company that established Full Tilt Poker in 2004. He served on the company’s board of directors along with co-founders Bitar, Furst and Ferguson.

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They were accused by the Department of Justice of taking $440 million in player funds between 2007-2011. Lederer had received $42 million from Full Tilt Poker. He settled with the DOJ, while admitting no wrong-doing, forfeiting assets of $2.5 million in exchange for little more than a slap on the wrist. Several years later, he made a half-hearted apology, shifting the blame onto those who ran the company after he stepped down. The poker world was not happy with his performance, nor his apology.

World-famed poker pro, book author and entrepreneur, Ferguson of Los Angeles was paid $85 million for his work at Full Tilt Poker. In his settlement, he agreed to forgive $140 million in dividends due him with the understanding that the money would go to the return of funds received from the players.

During his poker career, Ferguson won six WSOP events including the 2000 WSOP Main Event, earning approximately $6 million. He won another $3 million in other poker tournaments.

Furst of Marina del Rey, California, winner of $346,000 in major poker tournaments, mostly from the WSOP, agreed to forfeit the funds in his account that held his payments from Full Tilt Poker. Furst also paid $150,000 in fines, claiming that he was not aware that the company was not able to satisfy its liabilities to the players.

Perhaps there was a warning back in 2006, several years before the Poker Black Friday struck on April 15, 2011. One of Full Tilt Poker’s board members quit, stating that Bitar and the other managers were making poor financial decisions.

Then, in 2008, there was further warning when a number of Full Tilt Poker players began having trouble withdrawing their funds. Things were not looking good for Full Tilt Poker. Apparently, those warnings were never heeded.

As for Ray Bitar, many people in the poker world believe Bitar deserved greater punishment and will never forgive him, of which he is well aware. As a result, Bitar is no longer involved in poker. He would like to put the past behind him and return to the day-trading business, if possible.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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