Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Full Tilt Priorities

Full Tilt PrioritiesI sent an email to Full Tilt Poker last week asking about my balance. I did this once before, back in early June. You know, just for grits and shiggles.

The money I have locked up on the site -- a little under three hundy -- is thankfully not too terribly significant, especially when compared to what others have been unable to access for the last four-plus months. Of course, when it comes to a low-stakes guy like me, that amount actually does represent a decent chunk of change. Indeed, it’s a heckuva lot more that I’d generally be willing to lose in a single session.

So, you know, I’d like it back. I mean, when I played there, I didn’t get any percentage of rakeback. But I also didn’t realize the rake was gonna be 100%.

When I sent my email back in June, I received the usual automated reply acknowledging I’d sent something, then later that same day I did get a response from a support person. He told me the site was “diligently working on facilitating the withdrawal of funds for U.S. players” and that “this is our top priority.”

I also got the automated reply to my email sent last week, but no follow-up. Not necessarily expecting one this time.

What has changed since my earlier email exchange with Full Tilt? Well, in late June the site’s license to operate was suspended by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, from which point we haven’t even been able to open the sucker to say hello to our balances. A late July hearing with the AGCC revealed little other than the fact that FTP owed Alderney some £250,000 in licensing fees, since paid. In early July, Phil Ivey dropped his lawsuit against FTP, but meanwhile a couple of other class action lawsuits have been filed against the site, one on behalf of American players, the other for all players. And a couple of weeks ago we heard the site had laid off its U.S.-based employees.

Then yesterday came another baffling, terse message from the site, delivered as an “exclusive statement” to PokerNews. The sad little message -- less than 200 words -- noted that Pocket Kings Ltd. (“brand executor” for FTP) had concluded the “exclusivity period” of discussions with one potential investor and is now starting to negotiate with others regarding a possible “sale/partnership.” The statement concludes by echoing something the erstwhile “FTPDoug” had said back on May 30 (I think essentially the last time we’ve heard from the much-ridiculed spokesperson aside from a couple of posts in mid-June regarding the site being down):

“Full Tilt Poker's number one priority remains the same: to secure an infusion of capital to repay all of its worldwide customers.”

FTPDoug had mentioned this need for “raising capital” before, something we now all realize is going to have to happen before anyone ever sees his or her funds returned. In other words, while the “top priority” was once simply facilitating withdrawals, it has since become finding a way “to secure an infusion of capital” -- i.e., to find someone willing to pay their debts for them.

All very disappointing, obviously. Kind of makes me think about how the site’s “priorities” have necessarily shifted so markedly over the years -- away from giving players a chance to “learn, chat, and play with the pros” or even to generate revenue and advance the brand to achieving much more grim, even desperate-seeming goals.

Over the weekend Marco of QuadJacks drew my attention to a very intriguing interview with Chris “Jesus” Ferguson from May 13, 2005 on the “Charlie Rose” talk show. In the interview, Ferguson mentions near the end of the segment how he and “a bunch of friends... a bunch of the top players in the world -- me, Howard Lederer, Erik Seidel, Erick Lindgren, Phil Gordon, Phil Ivey, John Juanda, Andy Bloch -- we've all gotten together and we've actually founded a software development company called Tiltware, and we wrote the software for FullTiltPoker.com, which is the fastest-growing online poker site out there.”

Even though Ferguson’s manner is typically understated in the interview, it is hard not to pick up on his enthusiasm when describing Full Tilt, then not even a year in existence. Sad to think how badly the site has turned out, not least of which because of poor decisions apparently made by Ferguson and perhaps by at least some of those friends he mentions. (Incidentally, for a clear-headed discussion of just one such bad decision, see this post from yesterday by Kim of Infinite Edge, “Why Rakeback Hasn’t Added To Anything But a Few People’s Wallets.”)

While I lament not having access to -- or even losing -- my money on Full Tilt Poker, I lament much more the way the site has so significantly damaged both the current state of online poker in the U.S. as well as its prospects going forward. I realize other sites share in the blame here, of course, but it’s FTP and its poorly-placed priorities that are mostly occupying our attention at present.

And like Kim, I can’t help but suspect even yesterday’s statement by Full Tilt identifying their “number one priority” is more than a little disingenuous, with the accomplishing of many other self-interested goals likely ranking more highly for them at present than finding players’ money.

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