And away we go…
✖ On Friday, Full Tilt Poker (FTP) released a statement to PokerStrategy.com, the crucial bits of which read as follows:
Laurent Tapie, Managing Director of Groupe Bernard Tapie, announced today that the group has signed an exclusive agreement with the Board of Directors of Full Tilt Poker to acquire the company and all of its associated assets. This agreement, which includes the repayment of Full Tilt Poker’s world-wide players in full, is subject to several conditions; the first of which is a favorable resolution with the United States Department of Justice. Discussions with the United States Department of Justice will begin immediately.
It’s typical of FTP that the release neglects to spell out any of the other ‘several’ conditions on which the deal depends. Still, hope flickers faintly in the hearts of FTP players…
Laurent Tapie isn’t a Jeanie-come-lately to the online gambling biz. His past affiliations include the launch of (now defunct) sports info portal Free-goal.com in 2000, followed in 2005 by the launch of Livebetting.com, which was absorbed by Group Partouche in 2008. Tapie then acted as managing director of Partouche Interactive, leaving in 2010. Laurent’s father Bernard Tapie is a ‘colorful’ figure in French business and political circles, having spent seven months in jail in the 1990s over his role in a football match fixing scandal.✖ Shortly after FTP’s announcement, iGaming France published an interview with Laurent Tapie, in which FTP’s white knight said he “wouldn’t have undertaken such a project if he didn’t believe in its potential.” Tapie also stated that there would be no rebranding if the deal goes through. “The brand is not in question, it’s a well-known brand and the technology is widely recognized as being possibly the best in the industry. The management of the company is being questioned and it will be changed (should the takeover be concluded). I believe we have the tools necessary to once again make the site one of the leaders in the online poker sector.” If all goes well, Tapie estimates the site could reopen for business by January 2012.
However, Tapie cautioned that the deal was far from done, especially since it was only yesterday that the DoJ was talking about paying players back themselves (even if that was just posturing), meaning all FTP’s deal making may not amount to a hill of beans if US Attorney Preet Bharara won’t play ball. Moreover, iGaming France claims Tapie can walk away from the deal with FTP if he fails to reach satisfactory terms with “the different parties he’s in discussions with.”
Those different parties may not be limited to the DoJ and FTP, but could also include other investors. (Hey, a couple more white knights and we got ourselves a proper Round Table. I call Lancelot’s chair!) Tapie admitted that, while his family was loaded, they weren’t exactly keen on selling the family silver to front the lofty sums involved with (a) immediately refunding all the players’ money, and (b) paying FTP’s DoJ-imposed $1b fine. “We have shown that we have the funds necessary to repay player debts. We want to find ways where we don’t have to put in all the money and will be talking to the US Department of Justice next week.”✖ Further complicating the picture, FTP honcho Ray Bitar has filed claim against some of the assets seized as a result of the Black Friday indictments. In addition to admitting ownership stakes in various FTP subsidiaries, Bitar is also claiming ownership of FTP’s domain name, and at least three bank accounts listed in the DoJ’s civil complaint. In Bitar’s own words:
My interest in these above-referenced properties is legal and equitable ownership, an ownership interest acquired by my lawful establishment of those entities and my entirely lawful hard work performed for said companies over the years. The assets subject to forfeiture are neither proceeds nor instrumentalities of any crimes in any jurisdiction in the United States or elsewhere.
While Bitar has every right to file this claim, the DoJ has publicly labeled Bitar & Co. as Ponzi schemers, so we suspect that “entirely lawful hard work” line will really stick in the DoJ’s craw. Should make those DoJ/Tapie negotiations go much easier, we’re sure…
✖ In an exclusive interview with eGaming Review’s James Bennett, Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC) exec director Andre Wilsenach angrily rejected suggestions that the AGCC dropped the ball by its failure to notice FTP’s financial shortcomings. “Are you suggesting that we are wicked? I blame it absolutely on Full Tilt. In my view it’s absolutely right that the commission has decided to revoke their licenses.” Wilsenach admitted that the AGCC began to develop suspicions sometime in 2010, but didn’t commence an investigation until “March or April” of this year. Still, don’t blame the AGCC, at least, don’t blame only them. “Do you think for a minute that the other operators, PokerStars and Absolute, do you think that their regulators knew that the DoJ was freezing their funds? … If your operator doesn’t tell, then there’s no way you would know.”