Black Friday … One Year Later

by Lou on April 14, 2012

It’s been one year today since the Feds swooped down to shutter America’s most popular online poker sites: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and CEREUS Network rooms Absolute Poker and UB.com.  On Black Friday, the US Department of Justice indicted these sites and millions of players have had to live with the aftermath of their actions.

For most poker players, the biggest impact is that Full Tilt never repaid money to their customers—money that did not belong to Full Tilt in the first place.  To me, this is the biggest of the crimes resulting from Black Friday and its collateral damage.  For all of the DOJ’s posturing in the days following the site seizures, only the five payment processors charged in the case have appeared in court, with each copping a guilty plea and a smallish sentence.

But what about guys like Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson? Both were actively involved in the management of Full Tilt Poker, yet saw no ethical issues in paying themselves with money that was never theirs, and never belonged to Full Tilt Poker.  They simply took players’ money.

This is a criminal act.  I’m not an attorney, but fraud and embezzlement seem to be good starting places for what might be a rather lengthy list of charges.  Answers won’t be forthcoming until these guys are in court, under oath, and questioned about their activities by prosecuting attorneys.  In my opinion, the enormity of their crimes and the impact of their actions on others far exceed any ill deeds done by the five payment processors.

If they are innocent, a day in court is a way to defend themselves and restore their reputations.  But if they are guilty, they need to face justice, be held accountable for their actions, and be punished for it.

Although Poker Stars quickly moved to return player funds to them, none of the other online sites did.  I don’t believe players will ever see all of their money, and the best they can expect is to have their deposits—but not their winnings—returned to them.

Even that’s iffy right now, although Full Tilt is advertising to fill jobs in Dublin, from which one would infer that their license will be reinstated soon. They are intent on hiring folks with language skills that suggest they are looking at expanding into Eastern Europe.

Even if you like their software and interface, would you play there?  Some folks will probably argue that the new regime is not the old one, but as long as I had a choice of rooms, I’d play at PokerStars.  They have a demonstrated track record of caring about customer interests—never mind the fact that the Isle of Man, where they are headquartered and regulated, requires them to “ring-fence” player funds, and not comingle them with company operating monies.

It’s been a year today since Black Friday, and while so much has happened, there’s so much more that needs to take place to ensure that justice is done, that the guilty are held accountable for their actions and punished for it, and that poker can raise itself up from a year of disaster, anger, and angst, and regain its place as America’s—and the world’s—card game of choice.

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