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    The Differences between the “Big Three” Pre and Post Black Friday

    Posted by Quad Jacks June 24, 2011

    The events of Black Friday have rocked the Poker World, and have had far reaching consequences for people all over the world, but I don’t need to tell you that, you’re here on Quadjacks, reading this after all!

    People caught up in this the cluster-fuck of a situation are obviously upset by the massive financial effect on their lives, and given some of the revelations and with the massive amount of information released/leaked/speculated about, people are throwing about accusations left right and centre. In this blog I hope to clear up some of the speculation, and take a balanced view. It may not be popular but I’m going to look at each site’s reaction to this issue without too much hyperbole. I’m going to look at the “Big Three” sites, Pokerstars, Full Tilt Poker, and UB/AP, both Pre and Post Black Friday.

    Pre Black Friday:

    Pokerstars was considered a decent poker site, as well as being the biggest site in the world. Its customer service was the best in the business, and it had very good traffic, and a good spread of different games.

    It ran several grassroots poker tours, including the UKIPT and NAPT, and the EPT with online satellites, starting at the micro levels. It had some collusion and botting issues, but for the most part, was a good safe place to play poker, and had a good image to its customers.

    Pokerstars was affiliated with lots of sites promoting them, but didn’t offer rake-back. They did offer decent sign up bonuses.

    Full Tilt Poker (FTP from here on in, I’m lazy) was the 2nd biggest site in the industry, and had signed most of the Big names in Poker, including Ivey, Hanson, and Lederer. The site was pretty good, and was the only place to play “Rush” poker. Its marketing was predominately US facing, and involved “Team Full Tilt” prominently.
    The site had notoriously slow customer service, but was the biggest site to offer rake- back, so tended to get a lot of cash grinders because of this.

    Pre Black Friday, they had been experiencing issues with e-check deposits. Players had been able to load funds, without them being taken from their bank accounts, and people being people had abused this (more on this later). There had been a few rumblings about some players not getting certain agreements honoured (Isildur etc.) but nothing that had been openly confirmed.

    FTP had a good affiliate scheme, most of them offering up to 27% rake-back.

    UB/AP was considered the bastard stepchild of the industry. They had been rocked by scandal after scandal. There were scandals involving cheating and cover-ups related to these scandals (Info on the scandals here: http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/29/news-views-gossip/ultimatebet-scandal-sticky-251207/).
    Recently, the site’s “encryption” was broken by using Windows calculator which was discovered by PTR.

    UB/AP had been shunned by most poker players, only those looking to take advantage of the large amount of fish had really been playing there. They also seemed to have a large number of bots, and it appeared that some of these were run by UB/AP as traffic boosters.

    The Site was considered shady, and most people who had analysed it thought it was still owned by the same people who had been in charge when the site had been caught cheating.

    UB had a big affiliate program, as they tended to lose a lot of players once they discovered the site’s history.

    The sites had all been operating since 2006 when the UIGEA had been voted into law, and Party Poker (and a few other sites) had left the US market. They had been encountering more and more issues paying out Us players, as loopholes had been closed. Some of the actions they took to facilitate US player payouts in effect caused Black Friday.

    Post Black Friday:

    Pokerstars handled BF in the best way possible. They closed real money play to US players the quickest, they we’re open about the issues, and are currently the only site to pay out all their US players. They have also had the least impact to their traffic, and are only down about 30% from their pre BF levels.

    They are still stating they are innocent of the crimes they are accused of, and have employed seriously big law firms to manage their legal issues.

    For all non-US players, Pokerstars is working as usual, apart from a slightly worse player pool, and times being changed on the big MTTs.

    To my knowledge, none of the US members of Team Pokerstars have been released form their contracts, or have asked to be released.

    FTP was a lot slower in reacting to BF, but considering their customer service history, this wasn’t really out of pattern with their previous actions. They did turn off real money play for US players within a reasonable timeframe, but players were able to avoid this for a while, and some ran up decent sized wins in this time. No-one knows if they will be able to keep this if/when FTP pays out.

    FTP has employed some of the same heavy weight lawyers as Pokerstars, and is also claiming its innocence.

    FTP has been unable to pay out its US player base, and has been very lax in its efforts to keep these players updated. No formal statement has been made, just a few forum posts from the FTP mouthpiece FTP Doug.
    On the 30th of May 2011, FTP finally admitted that it did not have the funds to pay out the US player base. After weeks of speculation, and a lot of rumours, that the player funds were not safe (contrary to what FTP had been saying), FTP finally let players know, in 1 line out of a 2 page document. Not exactly clear and transparent.
    The estimate of outstanding funds owed to US player is circa $150 million.
    The e-check issue (see pre BF segment) is worth about $60m, and there have been funds seized by the DoJ, but the DoJ has claimed that no player funds have been seized.

    I have dug deeper into the Alderney Gaming Control Commission (AGCC) licence issued to FTP, and they were not actually obligated to keep all player funds on hand. They were only required to keep a percentage of player deposits available. There have been some unconfirmed reports (actually on Quadjacks) that some of these funds were used for publicity.

    My personal pet theory is that FTP used some of the funds to play the markets (I have no evidence to back this, just a gut feeling, and the knowledge it would be something I would look at if I had “free” money lying around). If this was the case they could have been badly hit by recent market hits in the past few years. This could have contributed to the current hole if FTP’s finances.

    What ever the funds have been used for, they are not available to pay out the players. This breach of trust has probably hurt the reputation of FTP in such a way, that unless they change management team, no-one will trust them in the same way again.
    It has also hurt the trust in the AGCC that player previously held. If the licence allows companies to do this, this issue could arise in other AGCC regulated companies (http://www.gamblingcontrol.org/licensees2.php).

    50% of FTP is apparently up for sale, according to several sources, but who would invest in a company under indictment in the US, may be fined millions of dollars, and has a history of mismanaging funds? The investor pool will be very small, and if you take out the criminal element, almost non-existent.

    Phil Ivey is also suing FTP’s software owner (and possible de-facto ownership) Tilt ware, to be released from his contract with them. He is the first member of team Full Tilt to do this, but will probably not be the last. It’s also worth mentioning that Ivey most likely owns part of Tilt ware himself.

    Patched up players have been getting some abuse at the WSOP for continuing to support the company.

    UB/AP had by far the worst reaction to the DoJ actions. They did their best to ignore it as much as possible, and when they did release a statement it was a grand “FUCK YOU” to the Do, although they did soften their stance later.

    They finally blocked US players a few weeks ago, and since then, their traffic has gone down somewhere in the region of 95%. They have in essence ceased to be an operating site.

    UB/AP has employed some lawyers, but we’ve not heard much from them since this.
    If you thought FTP was being lax keeping players updated, UB/AP has made them seem attentive and caring.

    This might have been affected when they fired most of their customer support staff soon after BF. How can they expect to run a customer based company without support staff?

    Most people have said from day one, that any money on either of the 2 sites is gone. This thought was supported by an article from Subject Poker, when they came out saying that UB/AP only has about $5-6M in liquid funds, and owes about $54M.
    (http://www.subjectpoker.com/2011/06/cereus-owes-players-54m-has-only-5m-6m/)
    There have been reports that the owners of UB/AP have been bleeding the company dry for years, through a complicated business arrangement revolving around a “sale” of the company after the 1st scandal.

    Conclusions:

    Ok, so it seems that the 3 indicted sites have handled BF in 3 differing ways. Pokerstars seems to have gone the Gold Standard route, and have hit the ball out of the park. If a company can look good getting indicted for bank fraud, Pokerstars just managed it. They have taken a hit, but their worldwide business still has them as the biggest site in the world, even without the US players.

    I can’t negatively comment on any of the Pokerstars actions post BF. They have done exactly what needed to be done, in a way that has re-assured their customer base.
    10/10

    On the other end of the spectrum UB/AP have done nothing to reassure their player base. No-one seriously believes that they are going to get paid. The site has been caught cheating in the past, they have tried to cover it up, they “sold” the company to themselves to hide the ownership, and appear to have been bleeding the company dry for years.

    They had to be blackmailed into paying out the legally required redundancy in Costa Rica for their Customer Support workers that were fired after BF.

    We have no confidence in this company, and they have made little or no efforts in trying to instil confidence in this company.
    0.5/10

    Now we come to FTP.

    In my opinion, and I’m probably gonna get flamed for this, FTP is somewhere towards the top end of middle of the spectrum.

    The situation FTP is currently in is cock-up, not conspiracy.

    Unlike UB/AP, where there is a history of ripping off customers and making morally and legally dubious decisions., FTP has never intentionally taken actions to deliberately rip off the player base. From what I’ve seen they have made some very shitty business decisions. They had no contingency plans for something like this (unlike Pokerstars, who have admitted they had an idea this was coming), they had already dug themselves a $60m hole in their balance sheets by taking payments they had no way to process. In addition to this, they weren’t required, unlike Pokerstars, to keep the full player balance available and segregated from operating funds.
    They had used some of the player funds as operating funds, whether for publicity, or for investments, or for buying Bitar’s hookers.

    It doesn’t matter what it was used for, but it was used for things other than player bets.
    While this is pretty normal for cash rich businesses, (to leverage their cash reserves into other revenue streams), with a business like this, where the player funds are in effect held in trust, using these funds for anything other than what the “owner” has in mind is in my mind dubious.

    However, these circumstances created the “Perfect Storm” where the Actions of the DoJ on Black Friday had an effect that was not predicted. FTP lost its liquidity.
    If the DoJ hadn’t taken the actions it had, we would never have heard of this issue. US players would be getting paid out, and all would be right in the world of FTP.
    The business model was working, things were working as intended, and FTP still had the trust of the players. Fast Forward to after BF, and because FTP had no contingencies in place, US players aren’t getting paid out, FTP is on the verge of collapse, and people no longer trust FTP.

    But, they are actually trying to fix this. They are offering 50% of their livelihood to try and pay players out. FTP’s rake is not inconsiderable, when it’s able to operate, but because of the concerns over player funds, they’re not able to make the rake they would normally expect.

    I’ve personally been contributing to that issue, but only because I feel that non-US players have little or no chance to see any money still on FTP if they go belly up. And going belly up is a very real possibility, unless they find $200M+, and soon.
    (I stand by my advice though, and in doing so, I mean no disrespect to the US players. If you have money on FTP, get it off ASAP. Firstly players have to act in their own best interest. They have to protect their livelihood.)

    FTP and the people running it have never been good with their customers. There are hundreds of threads on 2+2 complaining about their customer service, and unfortunately they’ve carried that attitude over into dealing with this major event. FTP was not prepared for this, and I think they didn’t know what to do.

    It took them far too long to cease operations to US players. They should have the functionality in their software to limit operations based on location (both stated and IP) for security purposes.

    They should hire a new PR company. The one they are using is awful. Issuing information through threads on message boards is not best practice. I don’t think I’ve seen more than 3 or 4 Press Releases from FTP since Black Friday. They certainly should have issued one for the announcement that they didn’t have enough funds to pay back the US players.

    Yet for all of these mistakes, I can’t see the malice I can see in the actions of UB/AP.

    They are trying to get the US players their money. That fact alone is worthy of praise.
    So given the lack of malice, and given the attempts to actually raise the funds to pay out the players, I have to give FTP 6.75/10.

    So, while on the outside, 2/3 of the indicted sites are still to pay out players, one of them, FTP, are at least trying. I can’t see 1 cent coming out of UB/AP unless it goes into the owners pockets.

    I wish FTP good luck in re-capitalising their business, I just wish I had the money to do it myself. The rewards could be massive, but unfortunately, so are the risks.

    There is 1 Comment

    1. Robert Dudek
      - June 25, 2011
        -   Reply

      Worthy of note is that Full Tilt Poker has had great difficulty paying out its non-US customers in a timely fashion. Players in some countries have not been able to withdraw for weeks and others have had very slow and/or irregular cashouts. There is a long 2+2 thread on NVG detailing this.

      In my opinion the above facts virtually prove that FTP has a serious cash flow problem. No other explanation makes sense, as they are damaging their reputation among existing customers by not paying out in a timely manner.

      FTP traffic has stabilized over the past few weeks (according to Pokerscout); it still gets more traffic than the #3 and #4 sites combined. But how long can these payment delays continue before there is further deterioration?

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