PokerTribe Launch on Indefinite Hold; Investigation Launched into UEG
From the “Tell me you didn’t see this one coming” category comes the latest in the saga of would-be tribal gaming enterprise PokerTribe.com and its Florida-based developer, Universal Entertainment Group (UEG), including a new federal investigation by the National Indian Gaming Commission into the first attempt by UEG to launch a site in conjunction with an Oklahoma-based tribal nation.
The NIGC investigation into UEG involves its former deal with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. (Cheyenne and Arapaho operates as a single tribal nation). Beginning in 2012, the Cheyenne and Arapahos sunk $9.5 million into a partnership with UEG in an effort to launch a real-money online poker and gambling site that would serve players outside the US. That site was called pokertribes.com — note the “s” — and it offered a rudimentary web site for a couple of years, featuring plenty of graphics and promises to “Open soon!”… but it never did.
Exactly why a player in the UK, for example, would want to put money on this site when they could opt for PokerStars or 888 or Coral or any of dozens of other international gaming giants wasn’t exactly clear. What the Cheyenne and Arapahos got for their millions was a legal battle with the state and the feds over the proposed site, which they actually won. But still, no site, while UEG “consultant” Fereidoun “Fred” Khalilian and other company execs appeared to be living the high life.
According to a recent story in the Oklahoman, NIGC has recently contacted the Cheyenne and Arapahos about that failed deal. As Reggie Wassana, speaker of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal legislature, told that outlet, “A lot of money was paid and nothing was ever received. Nothing became of it. It was $9.4 million for a website basically — there was no realization of profits and no actual working internet gaming.”
But, according to Khalilian, whom the Oklahoman also contacted, “They (the FBI) went through all of our financials dollar by dollar,” Khalilian said. “We did nothing wrong.” The outlet also refers to Khalilian as a consultant for UEG, which is the nomenclature UEG and Khalilian prefer to use, even though it may not be accurate. UEG is officially owned by Isaias Ferrer, with Khalilian’s role and possible part ownership downplayed. That’s likely becasue of several previous legal scrapes involving Khalilian which could damage licensing prospects in other jurisdictions, should it ever come to that.
For example, here’s the link to a 2016 FTC press release about checks being sent out in connection with a 2010 case brought by the FTC against Khalilian and a company of his, Dolce Group Worldwide, LLC. The case ended with a judgment of $4,255,209 against Khalilian and Dolce for selling “bogus ‘extended auto warranties’, via a robo-calling operation. Khalilian appears to have scraped together more than $4 million to pay the majority of those claims, according to that 2016 presser. One has to wonder where that $4 million came from.
Khalilian was also pipped by the FTC back in 2001, as the central part of the FTC’s “Operation Travel Unravel.” You can read about that one here — it involved a fax-based telemarketing scheme in which overpriced and non-refundable travel “deals” were sold to consumers in a way the FTC claimed violated telemarketing laws.
Then again, you can always read Fred’s version of these stories and other misadventures, which he serves up publicly at FredKhalilian.com.
Given that there are dozens of readily available links to older stories where Khalilian is cited as the co-founder or owner of UEG, the official claim of “consultant” appears suspect, especially given his very active role with the company.
And that brings us to the second part of the tale. The UEG’s initial deal with the Cheyenne and Arapaho went away when that tribe’s former president, Janice Prairie-Boswell, was voted out of office in 2014. So UEG went looking for another tribal partner. They found it in the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, which has plunked in at least another $10 million of its own.
UEG changed the domain and the site from poketribes.com to pokertribe.com, moved the site over, and issued more promises about “Opening Soon!” Except that hasn’t happened either, and now UEG claims, per that report in the Oklahoman, that it’s because of delays in being licensed by such jurisdictions as the Isle of Man.
That may be true, but the market audience problem still remains. UEG’s ability to sell an eight-digit pig in a poke to two different Oklahoma tribal nations is somewhat impressive, nonetheless.
Last December we reported on the comical happenings regarding the Iowas’ pokertribe.com site and its perpetual failure to launch. Nothing’s changed there, except perhaps for the newest excuses from UEG. In that previous report, one can view links to the bitter online war still being waged between UEG execs and at least a couple of former Cheyenne and Arapaho officials, which plays into all these investigations that have been going on.
Will pokertribe.com ever launch for real-money play? Oh, hell, no, in this writer’s unvarnished opinion. UEG’s marketing scheme simply cannot work, and it trails the gaming industry and the global regulatory structures surrounding it by a good decade or more. Whether that represents anything fraudulent, as this latest NIGC investigation seems to be assessing, might be another sort of question. But a bad, stupid business idea? Sure, there’s at last that.
(This story has been updated to include additional details and links. The opinions offered here are those of the author only, and are not the responsibility of the owners and publishers of FlushDraw.)