Recent comments by French businessman Bernard Tapie have raised questions about the extent to which his company, Groupe Bernard Tapie (GBT), intends to invest in Full Tilt Poker (FTP). On Friday, Tapie’s son Laurent confirmed that GBT had entered into an ‘acquisition agreement’ with FTP’s board of directors. Although Laurent stressed that any takeover of FTP was dependent on several factors, not the least of which was a favorable resolution of FTP’s criminal/civil liabilities with the US Department of Justice, he optimistically predicted FTP could be up and running again as early as January 2012.
But in a subsequent conversation with Agence France Presse, Bernard Tapie appeared to walk back his son’s public comments. Loosely translated, Bernard confirmed that an exclusive agreement had been signed with FTP, but suggested that Laurent had only been ‘invited’ to investigate the situation on behalf of GBT, and that Laurent had been given until the end of December to ‘give his opinion’ on whether the legal and technical issues involved in resurrecting FTP could be resolved to GBT’s satisfaction.
Furthermore, Bernard claims that if the bid goes forward, he only expects to retain a 5-10% stake in a resurrected FTP when all is said and done. This is either (a) confirmation of Laurent’s suggestion on Friday that he was seeking other investors to pool their resources for an FTP bid, or (b) suggestion that, once FTP is acquired, GBT intends to sell off 90-95% of the company as quickly as possible. (Could another online gaming IPO be in the cards? Shudder…)
The translation isn’t entirely clear, but Bernard appears to suggest that this 5-10% stake would not be held by GBT, but by the International Stadiums Poker Tour (ISPT), a production company in which GBT holds a 30% stake. The ISPT was founded in 2010 by Bernard and Prosper Masquelier, whose resumé includes production credits on French TV series Tournament of Aces and a three-year stint at Partouche Interactive (where Laurent Tapie also served). In 2010, Masquelier and LivePoker editorial director Georges Djen co-founded FullFun, which operates PokerExtrem.fr.
There’s very little publicly available info on the ISPT, but the ISPT.com website features a slick video clip promoting “the biggest poker event ever” allegedly taking place at London’s Wembley Stadium, May 10-12, 2012. Along with the phrase “30,000,000 $ guaranteed”, the video does indeed depict some kind of mammoth poker event/party/orgy on the pitch, with some players at live tables and other attendees playing (or simply watching, it’s not clear) poker on computer terminals, while tens of thousands more fans watch from the stands. Seriously, the video makes Thunderdome look like a chess match. The video concludes with an invitation to register on ISPT.com, although the only items currently active on the site are the video and a Facebook ‘like’ button (in French) that doesn’t actually connect to a FB page. (Clearly, the $30m wasn’t spent on web design.)
Further to the Tapie family’s intent to parcel out the vast majority of shares in a revamped FTP, sources have told the Wall Street Journal that while FTP’s current owners wouldn’t receive any proceeds from a sale of FTP, they could end up retaining a “very small stake” in the company, but only if the DoJ could be convinced to go along. Insert howls of FTP customer outrage here…