Op-Ed: Doyle is dead wrong about Full Tilt Poker

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Feb 23, 2012 Posted in Op-Ed | No Comments »

In a recent blog post, one of poker’s all-time greats offered up his thoughts on why the poker world should go easy on Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson. Judging by his blog post Doyle Brunson feels the poker world is being a little too hard on the Full Tilt higher-ups, saying that there word, and his years of knowing them was good enough for him.

Now, while I respect Brunson’s opinions regarding the character of these people, just because you don’t feel there was “intent” to cause the current fiasco that is Full Tilt Poker, doesn’t mean you can simply wipe your hands of it either. Just as a well-intentioned chef using spoiled meat, or cross-contaminating food, isn’t intending to harm his patrons, he is still responsible for the eventual outcome. Ignorance is fine, but when your ignorance causes a great deal of harm there is a certain amount of responsibility that must be accounted for.

And I’m not so sure that the current mess Full Tilt Poker finds itself in is all from ignorance! While I think everyone who played online poker realized there was some risk involved (which is why I don’t feel Full Tilt Poker, or any other online poker room, owes the players more than their balances) when it comes to the owners and the faces of the company there is a larger debt to be paid, and I’m not talking financially, I’m talking about their reputations. But before I get to that Full Tilt’s defenders need to answer the following questions:

* How can Board of Director members not be aware of the $140 million shortfall from the eChecks debacle?

* How could Board members not care to look into the company’s books EVER? Especially after payment processors they used were being arrested!

* How could one guy, (Ray Bitar) keep all of the other owners in the dark as to what was really taking place?

* As Daniel Negreanu asked, how could they possibly not know the company was insolvent after Black Friday and keep accepting deposits from players across the globe; did they simply not care check at this point? Nobody received a Dividend check after April, and the company was still claiming all was well in June.

* Does Doyle really think Howard and Chris were kept completely in the dark by Ray Bitar? These weren’t simply shareholders who met at an annual meeting, these are men who founded and ran this company from the outset!

Forget about the money owed, Howard, Chris, and the rest of the Full Tilt Poker Board members need to answer for the lives they ruined. Everyone talks about the millions Daniel Cates had online, but what about the thousands upon thousands of poker players who had their lives utterly destroyed even though they have far less money locked-up at the site.

What about the mid-stakes grinder who had 75% of his roll on Full Tilt, how is this person supposed to make the transition to live poker with a paltry bankroll? What about the store clerk who built up a $500 bankroll by playing penny-limit PLO and was going to use that money to put a down-payment on an engagement ring for his girlfriend, or take her on a vacation?

I’m with Daniel Negreanu on this one; Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and the other Board members should never show their faces in a poker room again, even if players are repaid 100%. The repayment is their commitment from Full Tilt Poker to make things right from the business’ perspective; it’s not going to make things right for the individuals who were behind this catastrophe.

Would Doyle welcome these people back into the poker world with open arms? If so, then my questions to him are: Would you trust these people to open a new online poker site if they gave you their word they had learned from their mistakes? Would you go into business with them? Would you play and endorse their new site? I can’t imagine he would answer yes to any of these!

Basically what Full Tilt Poker did –for at least a year– was blow smoke up the ass of the poker world. Anyone contacting the company received a response claiming how their money was 100% safe and secure and kept separated from other funds. We now know this is utter BS, but at the time people looked at the faces of the site and said, “Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and the rest of Team Full Tilt would never lie to my face.” Doyle can claim Howard left the company in an executive role years ago, but he never did anything to dissuade the poker world from believing he was still heavily involved (which he had every opportunity to do).

Even if Doyle is 100% right and there was no malfeasance by anyone other than Ray Bitar: These men knew that their names and reputations was a huge part of the appeal of Full Tilt, and if they allowed the site to use them in this way they are astoundingly stupid. When your reputation is on the line you should make sure all the company’s ducks are in a row, and not take someone at their word: If you don’t do so than you are just as responsible.

For lack of a better analogy, they were the worst roommate in history: They told you how trustworthy they were and did everything right for a year, but after falling behind in rent by three months, relying on their reputation to get them by, they ripped you off while you were at work and left town! Only in the case of Full Tilt Poker they left a promissory claiming their current struggles and how they would eventually repay you; just give them some time to sort it out.

Repaying the debt isn’t going to erase what you did, it will only make it right from a financial perspective. Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and the rest of the Full Tilt Poker Board Members and Management should be absolutely embarrassed at what they let transpire under their watch. Doyle can try to scapegoat Ray Bitar in defense of his friends, but in the end his friends were right there with their hands in the cookie jar extracting millions from the poker economy –whether they were doing it deliberately or with blinders on doesn’t really matter.

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