Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Full Tilt Poker: Please Check Back Later

Please Check Back LaterTo the left is a notice one finds over at the Full Tilt Poker site, a most terse acknowledgment that all is not well there at present.

The notice was there yesterday. It remains there today. It will probably be there tomorrow, too. I’ll check back later.

There were a lot of eyes on that Alderney Gambling Control Commission hearing yesterday in London, the one in which some believed there could be some movement -- or at least the hint of some future news -- regarding the whole sordid Full Tilt Poker imbroglio.

Not a lot happened, as it happened.

As the name suggests, the AGCC, located on Alderney, one of those British Channel islands that actually sits closer to France than to England, is an independent license-granting outfit that gives its seal of approval to gambling sites as long as they pay their dues and follow the commission’s standards. Their licensees include several different sites that offer poker and other casino games, most of which appear to be based in the U.K.

As far as I know, Full Tilt Poker had been the AGCC’s largest and best known licensee. On June 29 the commission issued a statement saying it had served a “suspension notice” to FTP saying it was suspending the site’s license to operate. (To be specific, the AGCC suspended licenses of four different companies “collectively trading as Full Tilt Poker,” but for the sake of convenience I’ll continue to refer to FTP and its license in the singular.)

The AGCC further clarified that “The decision to suspend these licenses follows a special investigation prompted by the indictments unsealed by US Attorney General’s Office in the Southern District of New York on 15 April 2011, during which grounds were found to indicate that these licensees and their business associates were operating contrary to Alderney legislation.”

Alderney Gambling Control CommissionIn other words, the failure of FTP to return funds to U.S. players was not cited as the cause for their license to be suspended. Rather it was the DOJ indictments and all the untoward activities they accuse Full Tilt Poker of perpetrating that apparently forced the AGCC’s hand. The suspension notice directed Full Tilt Poker not only to cease offering games, but also not to take any new customers, accept deposits, or allow withdrawals. A few days later, the French-based Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne similarly suspended FTP’s license to operate its France-only site,

(Incidentally, the Isle of Man Gaming Commission also issued a statement on June 29 ensuring all that its licensee, PokerStars, remained in compliance and thus its status with the IOMGC was unchanged.)

Meanwhile, rumors of a possible sale to a European investor being in the works surfaced shortly after the AGCC’s suspension of FTP’s license, a move which many took at the time as a possible prelude to Americans seeing their funds returned. See this July 10 piece over at Subject:Poker for a summary of known facts regarding such a deal.

Yesterday’s hearing had also been announced back on June 29, and so interested parties had several weeks to build up their anticipation regarding it. Some surmised that if the AGCC restored Full Tilt’s license, the site could resume its operations and thus generate some revenue, thereby increasing the likelihood of Americans getting back their funds. A site relaunch also seemed to a few observers as something that would bolster the chances of the site being sold to that European investor, although it appears the AGCC is not going to let Full Tilt Poker restart the games until after such a sale takes place.

Given that the situation appears mostly the same as it was a month ago when the AGCC suspended the license, it wasn’t that big of a surprise to see yesterday’s hearing postponed until September 15. The fact is, little appears to have changed over the last month regarding Full Tilt Poker’s status with the AGCC. The site is still under indictment, U.S. players still haven’t been returned their funds, and the site’s sale is still pending.

And, of course, the site hasn’t been operating either.

There was a little bit of drama yesterday over the hearing starting out public and then being continued privately. Also of note was the fact that FTP owed the commission something like £250,000 in licensing fees, although the site’s lawyers’ response was that they’ll pay that once the license is restored. But all in all, the headline was for all to wait six more weeks to see if anything has changed.

According to most reports, the delay was granted primarily so Full Tilt could try to finalize that sale and thus get the U.S. players their money back. If so, Full Tilt’s ability to pay back players in fact appears to be very relevant to the AGCC’s restoring their license, despite the fact that the AGCC didn’t mention that specifically as a factor when it suspended FTP’s license.

DiversionHard not to be skeptical of the whole puppet show, really. That photo of the Howard Lederer stuffed doll, incidentally, comes via The Poker Farm. Saw one of those in the press box near the end of the WSOP, I recall, the only evidence of Lederer during the entire Series.

As far as trust goes, Full Tilt Poker lost most of us within days of Black Friday. The AGCC we wonder about, too, given what FTP was allowed to get away with under its watch. And the commission’s seemingly modified position regarding the withholding of FTP’s license -- not to mention its desire to get paid by FTP -- doesn’t do much to calm our disquiet.

Nothing to do, really, but check back later.

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