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The Full Tilt Poker Saga

By: rkingsley, Tuesday October 18th 2011
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Full Tilt Poker was a leading online poker room operating in the US market. It was one of the three online gambling sites targeted by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in April 2011. How events unraveled thereafter for Full Tilt Poker offer lessons for everyone involved in any form of online gambling.

In the beginning of April 2011 Full Tilt Poker was on top of the world. It drew the highest traffic among all online poker sites. The best poker players in the world were its brand ambassadors. It offered among the largest prize pools in online poker tournaments. And at its high stakes tables, where only the best could play, millions of dollars routinely changed hands in a day. On April 15, now known as Black Friday in the online gambling industry, the DoJ obtained an indictment against three online poker rooms, Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker. Under the UIGEA rules passed in the United States financial institutions were barred from transmitting funds to illegal online gambling sites. Though the definition of "illegal" was under dispute, the three above named poker sites allegedly manipulated the payments process. Funds were received from the poker players by small banks and transmitted to the bank accounts of the online poker sites in the guise of purchasing branded merchandise. It was on this count that the indictment was obtained and the bank accounts of the poker rooms frozen.

At that point of time the online poker rooms stopped their American operations. They held in custody millions of dollars that players had deposited for wagering online. It was not the intent of the DoJ to penalize the American online poker players and they created a mechanism by which the online poker sites could pay back the deposits held. Over time PokerStars did so. But Full Tilt Poker was unable to pay back its players despite the willingness of the DoJ to unfreeze the bank accounts.

Full Tilt Poker was licensed by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC). One of the conditions to be complied by Full Tilt Poker was not to use the players' deposits for running the online gambling operations. The implementation is not done on a transaction to transaction basis because the players' balances change rapidly as the players lose and win money. But all reputed online gambling operators do maintain encumbered balances equal to the overall value of the players' deposits. Apparently Full Tilt Poker had failed to do so.

The bigger question that is now being asked by the online gambling industry is that what the licensor's responsibility is in this regard. After hearing Full Tilt Poker out the AGCC has revoked the license issued to the online poker room. But this is absolutely no solace to the players who have for all practical purposes lost their funds. The AGCC has stated that it was misled by Full Tilt Poker, which had continuously reported funds that it had funds to cover the players' deposits without actually having such funds. The AGCC's executive director, Andre Wilsenach, has stated, "I think it's important we learn from experiences. We will certainly review our processes in the light of this particular experience and we might introduce changes if we find that there are things that we could do better from our side." Meanwhile a group of high profile players are planning to take the AGCC to court for failing to exhibit due diligence for their licensees and therefore being equally to blame. Such accountability needs to be thrust upon the licensors and regulators for the good of online gambling.

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