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Full Tilt Poker Player Remission Process: Possible Complications for US Players

full-tilt-logoThe ongoing process of government-overseen refunds for former US customers of Full Tilt Poker has seen a complication arise.  Several copies of an e-mail allegedly leaked from court-appointed claims administrator Garden City Group (GCG), and not denied by GCG when contacted, indicate that several classes of high-profile claimants are likely to be excluded from the process when the actual claims submissions are processed.

GCG has already opened up the preliminary stages of what is expected to be a lengthy application for refunds, at an online site that GCG has launched for the purpose, FullTiltPokerClaims.com.

Industry attention spiked rapidly after the publishing and confirmation by multiple recipients of an e-mail outlining who won’t be eligible for refunds from GCG.  Here’s the text of that letter:

The following persons are excluded from the Remission process and are not eligible for payment from the Full Tilt Poker (“FTP”) Fund:

i. A past or present employee of FTP or any of its past or present affiliates; 

ii. A past or present vendor of FTP that received compensation through FTP players’ accounts;

iii. A past or present Team Full Tilt player;

iv. A past or present shareholder of FTP, Tiltware LLC, Kolyma Corporation A.V.V., Pocket Kings Ltd., Pocket Kings Consulting Ltd., Filco Ltd., Vantage Ltd., Ranston Ltd., Mail Media Ltd., or Full Tilt Poker Ltd.; 

v. A past or present officer or director of FTP, Tiltware LLC, Kolyma Corporation A.V.V., Pocket Kings Ltd., Pocket Kings Consulting Ltd., Filco Ltd., Vantage Ltd., Ranston Ltd., Mail Media Ltd., or Full Tilt Poker Ltd. or any of their past or present affiliates; 

vi. A defendant in any civil action or a claimant in any forfeiture action brought by the Department of Justice related to the violations alleged in this action, or any related action (or any of his or her affiliates, assigns, heirs, distributees, spouses, parents, children, or controlled entities); and

vii. A person who, as of the Petition filing deadline, has been the subject of criminal charges related to the violations alleged in this action, or any related action (or any of his or her affiliates, assigns, heirs, distributees, spouses, parents, children, or controlled entities).

The list feels legit to most onlookers, including this writer, and the fact that GCG did not immediately disclaim the memo when contacted by the Poker Player Alliance’s Rich Muny, as Muny noted himself on 2+2, is further anecdotal evidence that the memo is genuine.

Thus, it’s a matter of parsing the various elements listed above, to see who is and isn’t likely to be declared eligible for refunds.

First off are the various owners, officers and employees of Full Tilt, Tiltware and the other ownership entity groups.  That’s largely covered in points (i), (iii) and (iv) of the above, and though some players are hoping for a very limited definition of who might be included, I fear it’s going to be larger.

Two of the important and as yet unclarified terms in the memo are “affiliate” and “vendor”.  One of the first anaylses of the situation, by Chris Grove over at OPR, argues that a very narrow and legalistic definition of both terms is likely to be used.  I hope for the same, but I fear the government bite will be larger and deeper, for a single reason I’ll get to later in the post.

For now, however, let’s detail some of the above categories.  Mind that all of these are likely to apply only to US-based people; if you or someone you know was a non-US Full Tilter, even if you fit into one of these categories, then you’ve likely already been refunded via PokerStars’ purchase and relaunch of the Full Tilt name.  Onward.

Employees of Full Tilt?  That would be anyone who ever had an @tiltware.com or @fulltilt.com e-mail address, or one from any of the other known corporate entities.  You can bet the feds have that list.

Then there’s all the known members of Team Full Tilt, in both its original and modified versions, who likely won’t be needing to apply for a refund.  They’re all clearly part of (iii) and in most cases (i) as well, above:

Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson, John Juanda, Jennifer Harman, Phil Gordon, Erick Lindgren, Erik Seidel, Andy Bloch, Mike Matusow, Gus Hansen, Allen Cunningham, Patrik Antonius and Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan.  Clonie Gowen was previously a member of Team Full Tilt as well.

Full Tilt Pros are a second category of players who were closely affiliated with the site, and who received compensation for the use of their names and likenesses.  I fear that this receiving of compensation makes them an employee under (i), even if they aren’t specifically members of “Team Full Tilt” (iii).  Here’s a list of 139 such players I found, noting that it isn’t quite complete, as players were added and dropped from the list from time to time:

Brandon Adams, James Akenhead, Billy Argyros, Josh Arieh, Amanda Baker, Praz Bansi, Joao Barbosa, Aaron Bartley, Steven Begleiter, David Benyamine, Thomas Bihl, Sascha Biorac, Andy Black, Farzad Bonyadi, Brad Booth, Alan Boston, David Bradley, Steve Brecher, Richard Brodie, Erik Cajelais, John Cernuto, Lynette Chan, David Chiu, Scott Clements, Artie Cobb, David Colclough, Diego Cordovez, John D’Agostino, Roland de Wolfe, Ryan Dreyer, Bill Edler, Trond Eidsvig, Eli Elezra, Nikolay Evdakov, Andrew Feldman, Peter Feldman, Scott Fischman, Perry Friedman, Eric Froehlich, Rafe Furst, Julian Gardner, Bill Gazes, Kristy Gazes, Markus Golser, Michael Gracz, David Grey, Svetlana Gromenkova, Jared Hamby, Matt Hawrilenko, Rob Hollink, Soraya Homam, Alessio Isaia, Niki Jedlicka, Chip Jett, Karina Jett, Berry Johnston, Denes Kalo, Marc Karam, Jonathan Karamalikis, Kelly Kim, Martin Kläser, Christiane Klecz, Erich Kollmann, Søren Kongsgaard, Christian Kruel, Markus Lehmann, Alfredo Leonidas, Andrew  Lichtenberger, Marco Liesy, Hal Lubarsky, Vitaly Lunkin, Jeff Madsen, Mihai Manole, Craig Marquis, Greg Mascio, Daniele Mazzia, Dag Mikkelsen, Scott Montgomery, Jordan Morgan, Carlos Mortensen, Greg Mueller, Adam Noone, Annette Obrestad, Raul Oliveira, David Oppenheim, Raul Paez, Stuart Paterson, Pascal Perrault, David Pham, John Phan, Caio Pimenta, Leandro Pimentel, Vivek Rajkumar, Stefan Rapp, Claudio Rinaldi, Ben Roberts, Roberto Romanello, Esther Rossi, Damian Salas, Ali Sarkeshik, Eddy Scharf, Erica Schoenberg, Adam Schoenfeld, Nick Schulman, Alexander Schwab, Huckleberry Seed, Keith Sexton, Matt Sexton, Paul Sexton, Beth Shak, Bruno Stefanelli, Johan Storakers, David Singer, Gavin Smith, Justin Smith, Cole South, Roland Specht, Sigi Stockinger, Frank Thompson, Kenny Tran, Marco Traniello, Michael Tureniec, JonTurner, José Luis Velador, Jani Vilmunen, Cyndy Violette, Jens Voertmann, Hans Martin Vogl, Mark Vos, Lee Watkinson, Melanie Weisner, Robert Williamson III, Roy Winston, Paul Wolfe, Christoph Wolters, Steve Wong, Steve Yea, Steve Zolotow and Flavio Ferrari Zumbini.

Several dozen of those are non-US players, but the majority of Americans.  The same holds true for the even-lower level of FTP-affiliated players known as Friends of Full Tilt.  Those players received simple rakeback arrangements and swag in exchange for the use of their names and likenesses, but they made themselves employees of Full Tilt by doing so.  Here’s a sample list (not necessarily complete or current), showing many of those players.

Oddly, until seeing this list, I had no idea that the PPA’s Muny had been — at least for a brief time — an official “Friend of Full Tilt”:

Mario Adinolfi, Johan Brolenius, Bruce Buffer, Eunjong Byun, Yongsuk Chang, Don Cheadle, Michael Craig, Jay Greenspan, Niklas Heinecker, Gabriela Hill, Matt Hughes, Gary Jones, Lacey Jones, Stephan Kalhamer, Paul Khoury, Brian Koppelman, Jim McManus, Maxi Müller, Rich Muny, Ali Nejad, Mekhi Phifer, Joseph Reitman, Marco Sander, Somyung Sim, Jeremiah Smith, Mike Swick, Johnathan ‘Fatal1ty’ Wendel, Jerry Yang and Yueqi Zhu.

Then there are several businesses with which Full Tilt entered business relationships, including CardRunners and the Hendon Mob.  CardRunners peeps include Isaac Baron, David Benefield, Taylor Caby, Ryan Daut, Brian Hastings, Eric Liu, Mike McDonald, Haseeb Qureshi, Mike Schneider and Andrew Wiggins, while Hendon Mobbers include Barny Boatman, Ross Boatman, Joe Beevers and Ram Vaswani.  Since the Hendon Mobbers are all Brits, they likely won’t be affected by whatever happens, getting their FTP funds out via the Stars acquisition process.

Now, let’s get to the crux of the news, the unknown definitions of “affiliate” and “vendor” as they’re likely to be used in this process.

Grove at OPR links to a decent general-purpose definition of affiliate based on its root purpose, “affiliation,” but as anyone who’s been around poker can attest, affiliates in the online business are more accurately described as the special category of “marketing affiliate“.

Say what you will, a marketing affiliate has still established a business relationship with the parent online site, and that seems to be the gestalt (go for definition #2 here) of the way (i), (ii) and (v) of the above are written.  That all the known business entities associated with Full Tilt are listed in (v), and then “affiliates” is thrown in after that, suggests that contrary to Grove’s optimistic opinion, this is a way to close the door to any of FTP’s US-based affiliates who had a business relationship with the company.

That goes double for anyone who had money paid into their FTP accounts, which was the normal order of the day at FTP.  Yes, for all those players who were allowed to declare as “self-affiliates” in order to get a rakeback deal, that’s likely to suck.  But I fear that’s how it’s going to play out.

The kicker here, one of the extra little factors that may decide things, is that the DOJ and GCG will be using Full Tilt’s own business and player records as part of this process.  And its amid those records where all these marketing affiliates and Friends of Full Tilt and what have you were tagged with special codes that got them the extra benefits.  Add in what are likely to be very clear records of lots of that famed Full Tilt “funny money” being dumped into those hundreds of accounts, and the DOJ and GCG have millions of little greenback incentives to construct these lines as liberally as possible.

I’d like to be more optimistic on this one; I really would.  However, given the high-profile nature of many of the pros above, putting in place a liberal definition of “affiliate” and “vendor” not only keeps millions more of the settlement funds in the hands of the government, it puts the onus on those players and their “disputed” claims to prove that they weren’t actually in a business relationship with FTP, and thereby had profited in some minor form from the company’s ongoing and alleged fraud.

That’s an uphill fight.

If the memo proves out as true, I read it as a nasty and pseudo-legal swipe by the SDNY at online poker, a way to grab several more millions out of the online-poker treasure it seized.  Some parts of the “Black Friday” crackdown have been legit, but others were clearly prosecution for profit.  This looks like another step in that direction.

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