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Full Tilt Poker Player Remission Process Marches On

full-tilt-logoThe remission process for former American customers of Full Tilt Poker continues, with DOJ-appointed claims administrator Garden City Group reporting that more than 27,000 players have filed petitions for refunds as the halfway point of the application period has been reached.

Garden City Group originally mailed more than 1.4 million notifications to potential US “victims” of the site’s fraud and failure, which at the time of its Black Friday shuttering and surgical removal from the US-facing online poker market was the second largest such site, trailing only PokerStars.  That there’s such an apparent discrepancy in the number of applications received to date, 27,000 as of October 11, and the 1.4 million notices sent isn’t that much of a surprise, since legally, GCG would have had to send the notice out to all possible registered accounts, the vast majority of which likely held zero-dollar or very tiny balances.

(Your loyal FlushDraw contributing editor, back on the job today after a brief personal leave, is one such example — while eligible for a $3 refund, it seems to not be worth the process for such a tiny amount.  There are likely many tens of thousands of such accounts with similar tiny balances within that will also go willfully unclaimed.)

Instead, while the process itself trudges toward the next important date in the process, the November 16th, 2013 cutoff date by which refund/remission applications can be filed, the important news has been the fine-tuning of the requirements and expectations of and by Garden City Group, the claims administrator, which slowly but surely seems to be being steered into as legally “fair” of a process as most aggrieved players could ever expect.

In all honesty, most of the major issues have been handled in a proper manner.  In conjunction with the news that affiliates would be able to receive refunds of the portion of their online accounts that was used for actual play, which we reported on last time out, one of the twin updates released by GCG back on the 11th also included this note:

No one is prevented from filing a Petition for Remission. If GCG is unable to provide you with a Petition and Control number, you may still file a new Petition by clicking here and then clicking on the “Create a New Petition” button. All Petitions—confirmed, disputed and new—will be reviewed after the filing deadline, using the Department of Justice criteria to determine eligibility for remission.

The boldfaced emphasis is ours — no players all prevented from filing.  All cases that may or may not involve affiliate payments and other matters will be handled on a case-by-case basis, once the application process is complete, and former affiliates were given a 30-day window to get their paperwork in that coincidentally aligns with the end of the general application window, on November 16th.

All players should be happy about it, because the maximum possible payout done by GCG on behalf of the victims of Full Tilt’s collapse can’t be known until all applications and their associated balance requests are received.  Once all those numbers are in and totaled up, and it is an absolute certainty that the amount is less than the $150 million or so held in abeyance from the PokerStars/DOJ settlement, can the DOJ and GCG confirm in any manner that undisputed claims can be refunded in full.

The fine-tuning continues elsewhere as well.  Garden City Group has maintained a FAQ page of the most commonly asked questions and issues, which it has expanded without fanfare as various topics have surfaced.  One of the latest such updates is point #26 on the FAQ page, which concerns Iron Man medals and Full Tilt Points, the site’s two primary player-incentive programs.  According to GCG (and behind them, the DOJ):

26. Are Full Tilt Points, Iron Man Medals and other bonuses going to be refunded or included in my account balance?

Full Tilt Points were a marketing tool and have no monetary value – they will not be refunded and are not reflected in account balances. Iron Man Medals and similar bonuses will also not be redeemed for their cash value and are not reflected in account balances.

And that seems fair as well, whether or not it makes some players unhappy.  Besides being non-monetary, the nature of such internal incentives makes them inherently non-transferable and non-redeemable.  Players always had the option to cash them in, and there’s a parallel between the value lost via their non-use and what happens in a retail bankruptcy when thousands of customers find out that their branded gift cards from XYZ Company are suddenly worthless.  The legal consideration happened at the time of purchase, not at the time of the use… or non-use, as the case may be.

There are even some players who will benefit from the Full Tilt remission process well above and beyond their actual legal entitlements.  Back in the months before Black Friday, Full Tilt went months without properly collecting deposits made by players, an issue caused by the shuttering of the St. George, Utah SunFirst Bank processing channel in November of 2010.

That five months of phantom deposits created a huge paper shortfall of over $100 million, which is also a contributing factor as to why GCG has to wait, just to make sure, that there is enough cash on hand to cover all claims.  But though those phantom deposits will likely filter out into nothingness via the remission process, they still represent a giant freeroll by the players who made those deposits, and never had them withdrawn from their banking accounts.

Most of those would-be deposits were made in good faith, but there are anecdotal reports on various poker forums of between dozens and hundreds of players who realized that there were problems with Full Tilt’s processing capabilities, and took advantage of the extended lag to game the system, making many deposits of thousands of dollars each, comfortably hedging a bet that Full Tilt could never collect any real money that went with those deposits.

In a just world, those players would also forfeit their supposed online balances, up to the full extent of the uncollected deposits made in those last few pre-Black Friday months, but there’s no indication in the GCG updates… yet… that these players will be held responsible for their own legally binding transactions.

It should be noted that it’s hard to look at the Full Tilt mess from outside and determine the line where good-faith deposits end and an online form of check-kiting begins, but it was out there, somewhere, taking place.  Those that participated in that are no more honorable than the Howard Lederers and Ray Bitars and Chris Fergusons and Phil Iveys of Full Tilt themselves, even if we don’t know those players’ names.  But the last thing I’d do would be to call them “victims”.

Above all, though, the Full Tilt remission process marches on.  It’s about as fair as it could be, all things considered, and that’s all the players can ask for.



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