Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Developing: PokerStars to Buy Full Tilt Poker?

Developing: PokerStars to Buy Full Tilt Poker?I remember a little over a year ago pulling together a lengthy feature article for a poker magazine for which I spent several weeks researching and interviewing players and industry figures regarding the “cold war” between online poker’s then-superpowers PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

The article was primarily focused on poker television shows and how top players representing the two sites were unable to compete against one another because the sites wouldn’t allow it. Most of the players I talked to hated the fact that they couldn’t play against one another on the shows.

Seemed kind of a one-sided thing, actually, with Stars being perfectly willing to let the FTP guys onto their shows, but FTP being less interested in such desegregation. Meanwhile, the shows’ producers (with whom I also spoke) had no restrictions regarding players -- that is, they certainly “cast” the shows, but didn’t follow any guidelines about not picking players based on which site they represented.

The due date for the article was April 15, 2011. No shinola. I managed to submit it a few days early before heading down to Lima, Peru for the LAPT event. That’s where I’d be when Black Friday happened. I knew shortly after hearing the news that Friday afternoon that my article had instantly become anachronistic, something I wrote a little about here a couple of months afterward in a post titled “From the Annals of Bad Timing.”

I was reminded of all that this morning amid this rumor-slash-news regarding PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. Let’s back up a couple of days first.

“Recently heard some very promising news regarding full tilt,” tweeted Dan “jungleman” Cates this past Sunday afternoon. “Can't share it because it's confidential, but things looking very good :)”

Cates, of course, has a particular interest in all things Full Tilt Poker, given how he reportedly had somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million in his account when Black Friday struck a little over a year ago. Stories since then have suggested he may have sold a good portion of that balance, but obviously he’d still be one to take a sincere interest in the fate of FTP.

Then early this morning, before the sun rose here on the east coast, a brand-new poster at Two Plus Two named “PS<3FTP” provocatively started a thread in the News, Views, and Gossip forum titled “Big News: PokerStars Purchases FTP(?)

The brief post declared that Stars “has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to buy FTP.” Additional bullet points include players getting “refunded 100%” as well as “both sites back online.” (The latter seems an odd thing to say as only one of the two sites is currently offline.) “Expect more news today,” is the signoff.

Moderator NoahSD (formerly of Subject:Poker) correctly responded with cynicism, deleting the thread, but reinstated it after “a number of inside sources” told him there might be something to the report. So the thread remains, with posts being added at a clip of a couple hundred per hour -- none containing any additional news thus far, natch.

About four hours after the post appeared, Alex Dreyfus, CEO of ChiliPoker, tweeted an unambiguous declaration: “Pokerstars buys FullTilt for a consideration of $750m, including settlement with DOJ and full balances of players (330m). I'm impressed.” That got retweeted a lot, of course.

A few minutes later, iGamingFrance tweeted they had asked the Laurent Tapie group about the rumor and the response was they had no comment and would be sending out a press release later today.

Now PokerFuse has posted an article the title of which appears to confirm the story once and for all -- “PokerStars Reaches Agreement to Buy Full Tilt, Settles with DOJ” -- although they, too, are still seeking confirmation from the parties involved. However, the PokerFuse article does indicate that the Tapie group has apparently tapped out of the game, quoting a source at e-Gaming magazine confirming that “efforts to obtain final DoJ approval to acquire the assets of Full Tilt Poker have ended without success.”

The general tenor of the gradually building hysteria is that all are awaiting word from PokerStars and/or the DOJ in particular one way or the other regarding the possible deal. Meanwhile, a few have begun speculating about the reasons why Stars might possibly care to involve themselves in the FTP saga at all.

Indeed, our memories of the situation from just over one year ago remain fairly vivid, with the two sites standing side by side, towering over the rest of online poker as wholly separate entities with seemingly little interest in joining forces, even for a televised sit-n-go.

All of which makes this development -- actual or not -- all the more intriguing to envision. That is, an actual winner in that old “cold war” as a possible consequence of the U.S. government’s having used its own legalistic weaponry to drive both from American soil.

Will keep an ear to the ground here, and perhaps come back to update this post as we learn more. In other words, as the news sites say, developing...

EDIT (added 12:30 p.m.): Shortly after noon Eastern time, the GBT indeed announced “that after seven months of intensive work, our efforts to obtain final approval of the United States Department of Justice of the agreement to acquire the assets of Full Tilt Poker have ended without success.” The statement goes on to explain the deal failed primarily for two reasons -- an inability to settle on a plan with the DOJ to repay “ROW” (rest of world) players, and FTP’s U.S. legal morass which the GBT characterizes as “unresolvable.”

The statement additionally refers to “press reports that the DOJ may have entered into an agreement with PokerStars” regarding the acquisition of Full Tilt Poker. In other words, the GBT here is merely confirming that it has heard what the rest of us have. You can read the full GBT statement at iGaming Post.

EDIT (12:45 p.m.): Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu tells PokerListings he has no information regarding the story, adding that “the idea of PokerStars buying Full Tilt for $750 million seems impossible to me.”

EDIT (1:30 p.m.): Picking up on the “cold war” theme, Brian Balsbaugh, the founder of Poker Royalty (the agency representing a number of poker pros), sent a tweet a short while ago in which he imagined how the PS-buying-FTP scenario might appear from the perspective of the latter: “It's hard to explain the level of corporate hatred btw PS & FTP. PS w power/control over major FTP shareholders is their worst nightmare.”

EDIT (3:15 p.m.): Andrew Feldman of ESPN Poker spoke with PokerStars and tweeted just before 3 p.m. “there is no comment from them at this time.” A little after that, Team Full Tilter Andy Bloch cryptically tweeted “This might just be ‘Super Tuesday.’”

EDIT (4:00 p.m.): A statement from PokerStars finally came a little after 3:30 p.m. with a note from Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications for PokerStars, explaining that the site couldn’t comment on either its ongoing settlement discussions with the DOJ or any of the other rumors swirling about. “As soon as we have information to share publicly we will do so,” said Hollreiser.

EDIT (5:30 p.m.): As the afternoon wore on, Shaun Deeb stirred the pot a bit by starting a new Two Plus Two thread suggesting he had some inside dope about the matter that “the deal is already done” along with some other semi-surreal-seeming stuff. Meanwhile, a Full Tilt Poker lawyer spoke with Diamond Flush about the failed GBT deal, noting that the site continued to hope that players were repaid. That statement ended with a reference to “settlement discussions with the US Department of Justice” and the need to be confidential, as well as an indication that “as soon as we have information to share publicly we will do so” -- i.e., language uncannily identical to Stars’ earlier statement.

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Blogger NT said...

"Stars being perfectly willing to let the FTP guys onto their shows, but FTP being less interested in such segregation."

Did you mean "such DEsegregation?" Presumably FTP wanted to NOT include Pokerstars players.

4/24/2012 12:33 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Right, of course... got caught halfway through a revision there. Fixed.

4/24/2012 12:36 PM  

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