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Groupe Bernard Tapie, DoJ reportedly strike deal on Full Tilt Poker acquisition

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full-tilt-groupe-bernard-tapie-deal-dojChristmas may have arrived two months ahead of schedule for players with bankrolls in limbo on Full Tilt Poker (FTP). Subject: Poker’s ‘Diamond Flush’ is reporting that the US Department of Justice has struck a tentative deal with French company Groupe Bernard Tapie (GBT) to allow GBT’s acquisition of FTP to go forward, pending shareholder approval. Mr. Flush claims the following email was sent Tuesday morning from FTP honcho Ray Bitar to shareholders in FTP’s parent company Tiltware:

I am pleased to announce that today the Department of Justice and Groupe Bernard Tapie have reached an agreement in principle regarding the acquisition of the companies comprising FullTiltPoker. My understanding is the deal provides that in exchange for an agreed upon payment by GBT, and a GBT commitment to assume responsibility for payment of ROW [rest of the world] players, DoJ will reimburse US players and settle the outstanding civil litigation with the companies comprising FTP. Beyond these conditions, issues like the time frame and process for repayment of players remain unclear at this point and time.

With DoJ’s consent now in hand, GBT may now proceed to finalize an agreement to acquire the companies or assets that comprise FTP. That agreement will very likely address the status of your shares or interests in the successor company. When I receive that agreement, I will coordinate with our attorneys to ensure the terms of that proposed agreement will be shared with the membership and voted on. – Ray

If two-thirds of shareholders give their consent, GBT would assume control of FTP, allowing it to pursue a new gaming license, possibly with FTP’s old regulators at the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, possibly with some other licensing jurisdiction. Whether new ownership, reimbursed US players and the payment of some as-yet-unquantifiable DoJ fine/’agreed upon payment’ would then lead to the prospect of GBT/FTP being allowed to pursue a US-facing license (if/when the relevant legislation is passed) is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

If FTP was no longer considered a ‘bad actor’ – and if PartyGaming’s $105m fine supposedly washed its own sins clean in the DoJ’s eyes, there’s no real reason FTP shouldn’t be granted the same latitude – Bwin.party co-CEO Jim Ryan could find himself standing in line next to GBT’s Laurent Tapie for one of those precious Nevada Gaming Commission licenses. If allowed to throw its hat into the US ring, FTP would dramatically undercut Ryan’s contention that PartyPoker is the strongest online poker brand in terms of US consumer awareness. (And, man, will those Fertitta brothers be pissed.) Will Wynn Resorts — after signing, then scuppering a deal with PokerStars earlier this year — start kicking FTP’s tires in advance of a possible joint venture hookup?

The idea of the DoJ being the administrators of a fund to repay US players is interesting, to say the least. Combining FTP’s byzantine accounting practices with traditional government bureaucracy should substantially boost OTC headache medication sales for FTP’s US players looking to file claims. For starters, will the IRS take a cut before funds are returned? Then there’s the cases in which US players’ FTP accounts were credited with deposits, even though FTP was unable to actually ‘pull’ the money from those players’ bank accounts. Some of these players went on to play with these phantom funds. Will any winnings generated by these funds be honored by the DoJ? If these funds were lost to other players, will the DoJ retroactively ‘pull’ the money from players’ bank accounts to pay the winners? Will US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara play Santa or Grinch this Christmas?