ARJEL Issues Statements as Europoker Bankruptcy Judgment Delayed
French online gambling regulator ARJEL has continued to provide updates to players on the former Europoker site, an Ongame Network skin that closed its doors in September only months after new ownership took over the site. A French bankruptcy court has delayed a decision regarding the ultimate fate of EPMEDIA FRANCE, the listed owner of Europoker.fr, until Thursday of this week, after an initial hearing produced no final determination.
At issue are the full value of player balances remaining on the site. Primary player balances were held in a segregated corporate account, estimated to hold €300,000 to €500,000, but an additional €200,000 credited to those same player accounts in the form of bonuses, rakeback and other loyalty rewards may not have been covered in a similar way by Europoker.
Since ARJEL treats all earned bonuses as full-value credit to the players’ accounts, this may eventually result in a situation where not enough funds exist after the bankruptcy process to pay all players’ in full. In that event, though a final determination has yet to be made, a recent FAQ on the Europoker situation covers that possibility:
Q. What would happen if it appeared that the amounts held by the Trustee are not sufficient to pay all the players?
A. To date, this hypothesis has not been established. In the event that [this circumstance] would come to be, the trust agreement provides — to ensure full equality between players, small or large — that a payment will be made in proportion of assets due to players. …
The brief 10-point FAQ addresses many of the possible questions players have raised to ARJEL regulators, including the possibility, quickly dismissed by ARJEL, that a Full Tilt-style rescue could occur in which a corporate white knight would enter the picture to ensure full payment of all player balances and other corporate obligations.
To the question, “Can we talk about a second Full Tilt case?” ARJEL stated that the circumstances were and are not comparable, and no such rescue for EuroPoker.fr players will occur. According to the related FAQ point, “The two situations are different and are therefore not comparable. In the Full Tilt case, the amounts involved were much higher. There was no contract guaranteeing the assets of players. However, the company was bought by an operator who has accepted the claims of players who have been treated as part of this operation.”
The answers given via the FAQ and the delay in the original resolution of the bankruptcy proceeding, which was originally held on October 15th, appear to be part of why ARJEL president Charles Coppolani canceled a recently scheduled meeting with a delegation of French poker players to discuss consumer concern over regulatory matters. Given recent interest in the EuroPoker.fr situation and the lack of a resolution until at least the next hearing, Coppolani and ARJEL would have had little extra information to offer.
Here are the two brief statements regarding the EPMEDIA FRANCE bankruptcy that ARJEL has released to date (translation via Google Translate).
From October 6th:
INFORMATION ABOUT THE PLAYERS EUROPOKER.FR WEBSITE
A licensed operator EURO ONLINE GAMBLING (now the company EPMEDIA), exploiting the site accessible from the address www.europoker.fr, [is] currently facing difficulties.
ARJEL, following this matter with due attention, cautions that [they] had asked the operator from October 2011 to provide a guarantee to cover the assets payable [to] players in case of failure of his company.
The guarantee was made March 7, 2012, well before the entry into force of the Law on the consumption of 17 March 2014, which now extends this requirement to all licensed operators of online games.
It will run under the terms of the law and the contract shall also provide that the amounts so guaranteed other creditors can not come into competition with the players.
ARJEL [will] inform the players of the developments on its website.
The above statement indicates that at least to the extent of whatever segregated funds are protected, that pro-rated amount stands to be returned to affected players. The listed “operator” or owner of the site may be Sacha Kéchichian, who lists himself as the president of Europoker (both .fr and .com) in various media outlets. Kéchichian, who lists his residence as Las Vegas, appears to have acquired the small Europoker operation this past may.
A second ARJEL posting, from October 9th:
As ARJEL has promised, here is the new information available, [which informs] players of the site www.europoker.fr.
The EURO ONLINE GAMBLING (now the company EPMEDIA) declared the cessation of payments to the court of Bobigny. A hearing is scheduled for 15 October.
Wherever there has been a declaration of insolvency, repayment of players is intended to be treated as part of a procedure governed by the Commercial Code.
If on October 15, the court considers that the recovery of the company is clearly impossible, then it will open a bankruptcy procedure. On this occasion, it will appoint a judge (called “judge-commissioner”), responsible for monitoring the process.
The opening of this procedure will be accompanied in addition to the appointment of a liquidator, who shall exercise the rights and actions of the company in liquidation. Players will have to file their claims with him. This will verify their existence and extent. He will appreciate, as such, the amount of assets “due.” This check will naturally be performed under applicable laws and general conditions of the operator. The liquidator will review any dispute which may arise as to the exact amount of these assets. Finally, it will draw up a list of claims that will be [adjudicated] (that is to say, accepted or rejected) by the judge.
It is in this context that can be implemented with the payment guarantee ARJEL had, on his own, imposed a constitution to the site operator www.europoker.fr March 7, 2012.
ARJEL, meanwhile, will play its regulatory role by making available to all players in the process, including that of the liquidator, expertise and analysis, with the first concern to be to safeguard the interests of players.
Finally, noting that a number of incomplete statements circulating on forums, ARJEL decided to open soon on its website a dedicated “Info Europoker.” [This may refer to the FAQ also available on the ARJEL site.] The info online at ARJEL [will be] reliable and documented information, [regarding] the advance of the record.
As noted, some of the information in that last communique is already out of date, such as the promise of a resolution by October 15th. One other point already included in the ten or so FAQ questions addressed to date is that affiliates and other business partners of Europoker will not be afforded the same sort of financial guarantees as players under ARJEL oversight. Instead, affected affiliates and marketing partners will have to file as creditors in the bankruptcy process and hope that some amount of funds may remain in order to settle possible claims.