Thinking – that could be a stand-alone mistake – Howard Lederer and Full Tilt Poker

I’m sure that no matter how much I put into this, or leave out on purpose, when I’m done, I will find something I should have said – and perhaps a better order of organization to start the ramble, but here it is.

I’ve listened to and watched all of The Lederer Files that produced; and listened to most of the TwoPlusTwo PokerCast, along with videos that make fun of Howard, read comments from people that prove lynch mobs are alive and well, and had several discussions with people I know about the whole Full Tilt Poker affair and how totally fucked it was.

I think Howard’s interviews leaves him chained to a block wall where he is taking the shotgun blast to the face while the rest of the Full Tilt Poker Team/corporate leaders/management haven’t been forced into showdown with all their cards on the table.  Howard may not be telling all but no matter how he tells it, most people want to reload that shotgun and keep firing.  He isn’t going to be able to do anything right in their eyes so in essence, he laid down on the sacrificial altar and died for no reason.

There are a lot of things wrong with the big picture of financial management of Full Tilt Poker and even though I’ve never had a company that had hundreds of thousands rolling through the door every minute or so, I’m smart enough to know that there have to be check points and protective measures set up to balance the daily picture. That is the one thing that caused the downfall of Full Tilt Poker, no money management platform to protect the company and the players.

Here’s my grasp of the situation to date – and I’ve stayed away from airing my thoughts on it because I know how vicious the unrelenting mobs can be, no matter what your intention is when you speak your mind, there are those that twist it into slop and drivel and point fingers in the forums. So…

Poker players, as the world knows, are a different breed of the working class.  All professions have some kind of degenerate variance but in poker it appears to be more pronounced.  After all, the poker world is filled with crooks, liars, schmoozers, rail birds, those that have lives and those that wish they had one, addictions, the ability to behave badly and get away with it, the opportunity to make huge amounts of money on any given day and the opportunity to be flat busted in the next breath, and the rush of speeding through life knowing you don’t have to punch a time clock or answer for most of your actions as long as you have a buy-in.

Many poker players like to call the shots, they believe they are ‘entitled’ to step outside the boundaries and control the environment they work in.  The higher they play, the more resolute they are in setting the world’s clock to their schedule. Am I saying that this is wrong? No, I’m not saying it’s right either, it’s just the platform…those with the gold make the rules.

Who knows if there was ever a ‘plan’ set in effect to manage the daily workings and financial side of Full Tilt Poker?  From dealing to almost every high limit grinder in the world over long periods of time, and to just about everyone that had a share in Full Tilt Poker, I can almost visualize a meeting with them – some would show up, some wouldn’t –   it would be almost impossible to ever get a group agreement once the wheels were in motion and the money started rolling in; after all, each one made it as an individual in the rock hard world of playing for a living. This isn’t a discussion on how well they made it because we all know that every poker player will tell you they went busto at various points in their playing career. But each feels they are the best qualified to decide on the future of the game.

With no solid independent management platform set up to take care of the business side of poker, Full Tilt Poker boldly forged forward and the cash rolled in.

Many have voiced the question of why Howard Lederer came forward now, my thought is, would there ever be a good time to lay down and get skinned, gutted, and filleted? When you’re being indicted by the feds, your business is falling apart, none of your partners/share holders/corporate leaders want to step in and talk out a way to solve it, and the industry you’ve been involved in most of your life is now treating you as a criminal that personally stole their online bankroll, when would be a good time to set down and talk it out?  Never in my opinion.

In listening to the interviews, Phil Ivey’s attempt to remove himself from any dealings with Full Tilt in the form of the lawsuit, etc., brought the point home that I felt from the beginning, Ivey was out to cover his own ass.  So what if he’s ‘the best player in the world?’ How does he get off reaping massive income from the business and then trying to remove himself from the mix when the chips are down? Boo hiss!  He’s a cheater in that respect, suck the meat off the bone and then run like hell if you’re asked to answer up.

Erick Lindgren: I started dealing to Erick a million years or so ago when he was a dealer in Arizona. He came into Bellagio and played $300-600 limit Holdem games and then went from there, later winning one of the big monthly tournaments that Bellagio held at the time. I’ve always liked him.  I admit to being shocked at the amount of money he can’t control – of course he’s not in control of himself.  Picking up an extra $2 million when getting a loan and not paying it back? Can you hear his thinking on this: “I asked for a $2 million loan – and got it – twice.  There really is a Santa Claus and I know it was just a gift.” That reeks of sheer bullshit and it’s covered in the videos by Howard.

I read Andy Bloch’s interview and it left me feeling a bit sad. Andy is one of my favorite high limit players, but I think the tone of the interview gave up the information that Andy didn’t want to get involved with the management side of Full Tilt.  If it’s broke, someone should step forward, put their shoulder to the harness and work at fixing it, damn it!

How many players were actual shareholders and had a voice?  I have no idea.  The information may be out there somewhere but I’m too lazy to search for it.  Were there non-poker players that were shareholders? No idea there either.

Take all the shareholders – especially if they’re all high limit poker players – and try getting a clear, concise voice of management out of all of them.  Good luck.

On Ray Bitar, I met him at a party at Suzie and Howard’s place back a few years ago.  We didn’t sit down and visit so I have no idea what he’s like on any subject. I did chuckle to myself at the time because his suit looked like it cost more than what my monthly income is.

On Chris Ferguson, I’ve never dealt to him but have said ‘hello’ a few times on the early a.m. beach walks in Aruba and when he won the NBC National Heads-up title (I was hanging with Katie Lindsay and Clonie Gowen at the final. To my knowledge he is not a cash grinder hence my never seeing him at Bellagio in the poker games.

So, did Bitar just fold himself into an envelope and stay securely hidden from the high limit poker pros that started/owned the company?  Did he have full reign to make or destroy Full Tilt Poker?  If he did, the shareholders/corporate management/players are at fault for giving him that much power. Was it easy to ignore the business and let him run it as long as the distributions kept rolling in? No, I’m not pointing a finger because I wouldn’t know where to start, would you?

When it was discovered that the player’s accounts were being credited with cash that hadn’t yet cleared their bank accounts would have been the best time to just STOP!  The money in deposits and withdrawals was a continual issue with payment processors trying to get around the UIGEA and since this was a known issue, why wasn’t there a control in place that would trigger problems were afoot? And notify all the share holders that it was time to get their heads into the business side of their favorite game.

On Howard, I don’t believe that Howard ever tried to pull off any money scams or rip off the public,  I think Howard was completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the whole colossal avalanche of mismanagement, player funding issues, and lack of interest in righting the wrongs by his fellow poker pro shareholders. And he was going to get to the bottom of it, with or without the DoJ coming in and closing down Full Tilt to U.S. players and freezing bank accounts.  When all the events seemed to peak during a short space in time and the shit hit the fan, he didn’t receive a lot of support from his team members.

During the interviews Howard did ‘out’ some of the named pros for owing money, borrowing, not owning up, and taking a share of the work and blame. Everyone appeared to have a ‘ignore it and it will go away’ attitude. When Howard mentioned names and incidents that were part of the ‘Full Tilt Downfall Package,’ many readers had a fit.  They accused him of passing the blame to others and trying to escape his role in the company.  You wanted to hear from him, you did hear from him.  What was he supposed to do?  Scream out, “I got your money you dopes, this was the ultimate bluff and I pulled it off!”

Do you think Howard did it all by himself?  I don’t.  I think all the shareholders/management/corporate shareholders are responsible and should be standing up to face their share of the shame and ridicule. I believe Howard came forward to try to explain what happened and how it got so out of hand.  For that I thank him for making the first move in trying to reach the online poker population in search of a resolution to working out the whole issue.

Did Howard make mistakes?  Do you?  Isn’t that part of life, making mistakes and clearing the path for a new start?

Thousands of online poker players around the world are steaming over their funds being locked up; rightly so but how long should you steam before you figure out that it’s done? It’s been a year and a half now; you’ve managed to go on with your life so stop steaming.  You don’t have to like Howard or approve, but you can gracefully look back on the whole experience and acknowledge that perhaps you, in his spot, might have done the same thing.

One point I would like to make – I don’t believe that any of the Full Tilt shareholders/owners/corporate management had ever had that much money rolling into their personal accounts in their entire life.  When it all started, all of them were probably in a bit of awe at how much money they could actually make in the coming years. Even managing personal funds in those amounts is difficult, you have to work at it, and then to try and dig into the company’s income/expense ledger on top of that is just overwhelming.  It’s hard to think about the flow of money stopping at some point and preparing for that day when the faucet handle is no longer welded on ‘open’ and the money stops gushing in appeared to never surface with any of them.

Do I think Howard should be held accountable?  I do.  But not alone, there’s a whole crew out there that took every advantage possible, from borrowing to not paying attention to the corporate bottom line and not wanting to get involved in it.

I suppose one of the easiest ways to describe it is like dealing high limit when a total donkey gets in the game.  The Donkstar is great for the game, he’s the reason there are two must-moves and a waiting list for a week. But if the Donkstar takes a few bad beats and gets pissy with the dealer, even name calling and card throwing, and the dealer calls for the Floor in self defense, once the dealer explains the situation, the meat eaters at the table look the other way.  Even when asked if they saw anything, they shake their heads and say, “No!” They want to get to the next hand, and they want Donkstar in the game so they aren’t saying a word.

That’s what I feel happened with the shareholders.  The money is rolling into their pockets, they can borrow if they need to, they are also getting perks playing on Full Tilt, so why rock the boat?  Why get involved when it could just all work itself out?

The big downside IMHO:

1) Poker takes another giant hit as being a degenerate sport played by losers and thieves;

2) The poker pro landscape has changed forever, there will always be issues for the shareholders and going out into the public poker rooms could be very hazardous to their health.

3) How comfortable will you be if one of them takes a seat in your game?  I think you’ll be ready to steam and it’s going to hurt your play, big advantage in the shareholder’s court…perhaps you are the next Donkstar.

What’s the answer?  Should they all be lined up and beaten with a cane?  Have all their funds removed from their accounts world-wide and be forced to send it in to those of you that had money locked up this last 18 months? I don’t have an answer but one thing I do know is that I’m not going to get up every day and whip myself into a frenzy over what happened with Full Tilt back in 2011. It’s time to move on.  Perhaps the DoJ will solve everything to the poker-playing-public’s satisfaction and we can get past it.

Here is one thing that I feel is a huge issue: why is everyone ignoring the fact that the DoJ has taken over the disbursement of U.S. players’ funds when PokerStars could have done it in a heartbeat?  Now someone will have to pay for the company’s administration that will take over the disbursement process…me thinks it’s us. AND WHY can’t US citizens play online poker?

This thread started a few days ago at TwoPlusTwo and reading just the first part of it is sickening. So Howard should never go in a poker room again unless the lynch mob says it’s OK? And he’s cruising Nevada to check out his seven mansions? It’s a long thread and not worth the read IMHO…so I stopped on page 2.

To Howard, thanks for making the move to open the first door and let some light in. To the rest of the shareholders, man up and get your shit together. Start working at solving problems instead of just grabbing what you can and running like hell.

Anything new that might add to this insanity will be in another post.


About Linda R. Geenen

The easiest way to begin is to start at the beginning. But where is that? At what point does one suddenly decide they are going to spend the rest of their life involved in the intricate art of the dance? What is the art of the dance? A game about people - played with a deck of cards. Poker! I stepped into the poker world in 1980 in Missoula, Montana. I didn't know anything about poker, couldn't tell you what the difference was between a bet and raise, or if a straight beat a flush. I had three boys to feed, needed a job and a dealing spot was open in one of the local bars. I played my first hand of poker in a 5 Card Stud game (with the help of one of my bosses) and that was it! I was hooked. I lived, breathed, slept, dreamed, ate, and talked poker. I eventually ran my own games (licensed by the County) in several different bars in Missoula, and at one point, managed the games in the bar where I started my first dealing job. In 1987 I traveled from Montana to Nevada to deal major poker tournaments, returning to Montana at the end of each one. In 1989, I opened The Mirage – along with 6,400 other people. In 1993, I moved to Gulfport, Mississippi, and opened Grand Casinos Poker Room, returning a year later to Las Vegas and The Mirage. In 1998 I opened Bellagio - along with over 9,000 other employees. In 2003, I dealt the final table of the Aruba Ultimate Bet Poker Classic event. Hey…I’m on TV! I had the privilege of being chosen as the dealer in the Howard Lederer videos that have been released on No Limit Holdem. I play poker on a regular basis and I deal to every name brand player that is still above ground and breathing air, the elite, the freaks, the ne’er do wells, the rich, the poor, the illiterate, the educated, the beautiful, the ugly, the superstitious, the rational, the sane, and the insane. Perhaps I am the one that is insane but if I am, I fit right into the game plan. Five nights a week I walk into the greatest, social melting pot known to mankind. I no longer dream about it but the art of the dance is prevalent in everything I do - see you there!
This entry was posted in Dear Diary and tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Thinking – that could be a stand-alone mistake – Howard Lederer and Full Tilt Poker

  1. Sandi UK says:

    Very well said…..

  2. KenP says:

    Well Howard (and family) tended toward an intellectual arrogance that doesn’t serve current interests. We all find situations where we get in over our head. The smart find help and the failures plod on.

    Chris is the one I look at most. He brought in and then insisted on Ray. Ray’s stock advisory schtick is one that hooks a lot of outsiders. Looks like he made money for Chris once and Chris held onto that idea too long.

    One thing I do know: you find out who your friends are at such times. I am honored to think of you as one of mine.

  3. Thank you Sandi, nice to hear from you.

  4. Ken, it’s such a difficult ball of rubber bands to sort through, just my opinion, but I do believe that it’s shameful that Howard is getting all the heat and the rest of the crew is skipping off into the sunset. I get tired of all the bashing that goes on when most of the bashers aren’t above reproach either.

    I believe it’s possible that no one except Ray may have known about the backlog for awhile before he informed anyone else of the mayhem. At the point that Howard or anyone else became aware of it, it was already catastrophically out of control and the only way to stop it would have been to just shut the money withdrawals and deposits down. The deposits were a real killer, players had access to funds to play on the site long before the cash was taken from their personal bank accounts and many of them stopped payment on the checks once they knew they could get away with it.

    The world is full of unscrupulous people and downright crooks, this is a perfect example.

    Yes, I’m glad we are friends too. :-)

  5. ten mile says:

    Hello, Linda.

    Think we’re overlooking at least two critical points (friendships aside).

    Several sites took the Illegal Act seriously and booked. Then, Black Friday.

    Two bow shots.

    FTP continued.

    They actively sought work arounds within the USA.

    Someone in that company knew – management knew, some of the board had to know, and the investors MIGHT have been informed. That includes the non-input of player funds never received.

    The rape of the treasury took place with fore knowledge somewhere, some of the help was quiting long before the end, some were let go. Even the PERKS for the various tourneys they sponsored (?) were late coming after promises, and advertised.

    So the cracks were visible to the watcher.

    Still. A good post, Ma’am. Enjoyed it.

  6. Ten Mile,
    PartyPoker booked and a lot of smaller sites did too, like Titan Poker, Everest Poker, and others, which brings up an irritating thought, why did the US target PartyPoker and fine them and the software designer Dikshit but these other companies were left untouched. I’ve never heard of an indictment or lawsuit filed against any of them, you?
    PokerStars, Ultimate Bet, and Absolute stayed in the U.S. until Black Friday – they were all seeking work-arounds in the US, and managed just like Full Tilt did to keep the doors open until Black Friday hit. The big difference is PokerStars had their player funds protected and immediately took care of them – and they still continued to operate and are, obviously. UB and Absolute appear to be just rip-off schemes and I haven’t heard of anything progressing on their paying anyone.
    No argument on the points you made. Since Bitar was considered management – and in Ireland – I feel comfortable saying that if he paid any attention, he would definitely know of all the issues with funding. It’s possible others in management knew, but how would we know that…blindfolded and wearing ear-plus is how the online player base ended up.
    One of the things I tried to bring to light in my post is that one would have to understand the mindset of a high limit poker player. I still believe that as long as the money kept rolling in, they couldn’t care less about digging into the bottom line and seeing what was really going on. This is not to say they are all that way but it’s a pretty good rounding curve.
    When everything hit the fan – and the whole world was aware of it, like Black Friday and the indictments – it had to be totally, mind-bogglingly overwhelming. I can’t see a way that any of it could have been corrected unless they didn’t get hit by Black Friday and all of the exposure, and they simply issued a notice that the site would be closed until internal issues were worked out. I realize that wouldn’t solve much either but it would have stopped the insanity of the backlog, etc. And, of course, all of them would need to stop receiving disbursements from the bleeding coffers.
    I think Howard is getting all the heat in the forums and news when the whole company needs to be pimp-slapped into reality, he certainly didn’t do it by himself. I think it’s funny in a way that people comment on his playing at Bellagio or Aria and U.S. players still don’t have their money back. WTF does that have to do with PokerStars? Full Tilt is no longer a site that belongs to a bunch of pros, it’s a PokerStars Full Tilt Poker site.
    As far as people quitting and getting let go, that happens everywhere, all the time, I find there are disgruntled bitch-warts everywhere in life. They get let go or they leave and most never have a kind word to say about anyone, they look for ways to find vindication and reimbursement – like suing – even if it isn’t merited.

    Thanks for your thoughts, I’m witcha on most of it. And the accolades for the post.

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