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Laurent Tapie weighing US federal poker plans in Full Tilt acquisition talks

TAGs: Full Tilt, full tilt poker, Groupe Bernard Tapie, International Stadiums Poker Tour, ISPT, Laurent Tapie

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Laurent Tapie says tomato, US Attorney Preet Bhara says tomahto

✖ There’s been slightly more light shed on Groupe Bernard Tapie’s (GBT) interest in acquiring Full Tilt Poker (FTP). Last week, Bernard Tapie suggested his ultimate ownership interest in a revived FTP — whether via GBT directly or via the International Stadiums Poker Tour (ISPT), in which Tapie reportedly holds a 30% interest – would be limited to a 5-10% stake. But in an email sent to Expatica.com, GBT lawyer Behnam Dayanimstated: “The precise extent of ownership that GBT may acquire remains to be finally determined, but the Groupe does intend to acquire a controlling interest.” Dayanim also confirmed that Bernard Tapie’s son Laurent “would be directly involved” in running a resurrected FTP.

In a conversation with PocketFives.com, FTP lawyer Jeff Ifrah touted the junior Tapie’s online gambling bona fides (which includes the launch of a sports betting info site and a separate betting site later acquired by French gambling concern Partouche). “Laurent distinguished himself due to his prior experience with Partouche Interactive. He has, within his portfolio, online gaming assets that can be leveraged with the acquisition of an online poker site like Full Tilt. He’s an excellent candidate to take this company to the next level and ensure players get paid back.”

Speaking to the New York Times’ Matt Richtel, Laurent described FTP as “injured, but not dead.” Hoping to move the injured patient out of intensive care, Laurent’s attorney met with US Department of Justice officials on Monday to commence the tricky negotiations surrounding FTP’s legal liabilities, including the possible unfreezing of FTP bank accounts to help refund the estimated $300m owed to players worldwide, and the little matter of the DoJ-mandated $1b fine. While Laurent had previously stated that his group preferred “to find ways where we don’t have to put in all the money,” he appears to have had something of a change of heart, or at least undergone coaching by a media consultant. “We are going to put all the money into the company we need to please the players. They are the key asset, above all.”

But which players? Even if all of FTP’s former US players are repaid the estimated total $150m they are due, there’s little to no chance of them being allowed back onto the site anytime soon, if ever. Yet Laurent told the Times that the acquisition negotiations hinged, in part, on the likelihood of the US opening up its online poker market. Simply put, Laurent is dreaming awfully big here. As this site has stated time and again (and Las Vegas Sands’ execs agree), the US online poker market will not regulate for some time, and when it does, it will be on a piecemeal, state-by-state basis, not at the federal level. And even when that happens, international companies — especially those bearing the DoJ’s scarlet letter — will be on the outside looking in.

✖ Further complicating GBT’s acquisition plans, attorney Dayanim told the Wall Street Journal that GBT is seeking new investment from the ranks of FTP’s current ownership. While Dayanim stressed that any current/future owners would not have a role in managing the new FTP, he neglected to clarify whether this group might include individuals specifically named in the DoJ indictments, such as Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Rafe Furst. Laurent said only that individuals who hadn’t been found guilty of a crime would work at the new FTP. Given that Bitar and Co. aren’t exactly pining to appear in a US court, their official guilt or innocence remains entirely theoretical, which offers Laurent a lot of wiggle room. However, the concept of FTP’s current ownership continuing to profit from the evil, filthy game that is online poker likely won’t sit well with the DoJ, who would have to sign off on such a scheme.

✖ In an effort to lower the initial sum they would have to front to acquire FTP, GBT is also mulling the idea of offering equity in the new FTP to players with significant balances tied up in FTP limbo. No suggestion was provided as to how big a deposit one must have on account in order to be considered eligible for a potential equity swap.

ISPT-logo✖ The International Stadiums Poker Tour (ISPT) — the fledgling live poker co-venture of Bernard Tapie, Laurent Tapie and Prosper Masquelier that has been floated as a potential vehicle for investment in a revived FTP — has posted some more data to its website. The ISPT site, which previously advertised the outfit’s inaugural poker event at London’s Wembley Stadium in May 2012, has since revised the date to September 2012. A ‘partners’ section has been added to the ISPT site that gives Wembley top billing, and also claims that ISPT Holding (described as ISPT’s ‘mother’ company) inked a deal to lease Wembley for that September 2012 date. However, despite this deal allegedly being signed on Sept. 16, 2011, Wembley representatives were denying any knowledge of the ISPT’s plans as late as this Monday, so who knows what to believe.

ISPT.com also lists mobile phone operator Orange as ‘technical partner’ and sports agents IMG as ‘TV partner.’ IMG is cited as holding the exclusive TV rights in over 30 countries for the ISPT’s “England 2012” event. Orange is described as having signed on to provide simultaneous WiFi access to 30k individuals for the ISPT ‘Main Event’ at Wembley. (This suggests that the people sitting at the computer terminals in the ISPT’s flashy promo video would be playing in an online tournament from their stadium seats. But if it’s an online tournament, why do they need to physically be at Wembley? Things that make you go hmm…) The site has also added a field in which interested players can leave their email address, to be notified when “qualifications” start in January 2012.

UPDATE: The ISPT site has since posted the following description of its plans, which apparently involve the distribution of 20-30k ‘electronic pads’ to participants. Better hope it doesn’t rain…

ISPT is reserved for players qualified, according to the current legal requirements, from its exclusive partners, online poker websites and casino operators selected by ISPT. The selection of these partners is on course, and will end in december 2011, the first qualification cessions [sic] starting in january 2012.

The Event will last for 5 consecutive days on dates comprised between August the 15th and October the 9th 2012, the preferred period being the first weeks of September 2012. The final dates will be released by Wembley Stadium after the english national soccer team calendar has been published, in november 2011.

The first step of the Event consists in making all the players (ISPT expects their number to be comprised between 20,000 and 30,000) competing online, simultaneously, on a dedicated software and using electronic pads which will be offered to them, from their seats in the stadium.

During the second step, the 3,000 top-ranked players still in the running will be gathered around real tables set up on the lawn of the stadium, to compete in real mode. Each of these 3,000 players will earn a piece of the 30 M$ guaranteed Prize. The last step is the Final Table, where the last 10 players will compete for the remaining 17.5M$ prize, the Winner earning 10 M$.

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