Should the WSOP Ban Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson?

(Author’s Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the owners, publishers and editor of FlushDraw.)

As readers of site are likely well aware, both Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson have decided to play at the World Series of Poker for the first time since 2011, when the online poker world was ravaged by the Black Friday indictments and subsequent financial scandals. Most poker fans, players, and other members of the poker community are not happy that they are back at the Rio tables. Many, in fact, do not think they should be permitted to participate at all. I, myself, have explored my feelings about the matter and while I am no fan of the two men, my general thought is: if they want to deal with the backlash, more power to them.

Lederer and Ferguson were two of the co-founders of Full Tilt Poker, members of the Board, and two of the site’s most visible celebrity pros. Both were generally seen as soft-spoken by the public, but their words and actions also had a lot of clout behind them. But when Black Friday hit and thousands of Full Tilt players lost their deposits (most of which have since been paid back, but it took years), Lederer and Ferguson, both named as defendants in a civil suit by the U.S. Department of Justice, saw their reputations obliterated, and deservedly so. They each made tens of millions of dollars from Full Tilt, a company which had been using player funds to pay distributions to owners. Both settled with the DoJ and admitted no wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing, but the damage had been done.

Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson were personae non gratae in the poker community, ostracized from showing their faces at any remotely poker-related events for years. And to reiterate, they deserved it. Fuck them. I wasn’t seriously harmed by Full Tilt’s demise (not to mention Absolute Poker and UltimateBet); I eventually got my couple hundred bucks back, though I did lose a few dollars from AP and UB. Many poker pros, though, had their lives turned upside down because of what Lederer and Ferguson either did as Full Tilt leadership or did not do. These men deserve all the scorn they have gotten.

A few years ago, Lederer did try to explain what happened in an interview with PokerNews, but it was a mess. He essentially spread the blame to everyone but himself. More recently, shortly before the WSOP, he finally made a formal apology. He did not explain exactly what went on, but he said he did not do enough to make sure there was proper oversight at the company. A significant part of me believes that the apology was just a way to try to avoid getting tripped as he walked to his table at the Rio this summer, but at least he made an effort that sounded genuine.

Chris Ferguson back when people liked him.

Chris Ferguson back when people liked him.

Ferguson, on the other hand, hasn’t said “boo,” apology or not. He, too, though, has played at the WSOP this summer. Ferguson has done pretty well, too, cashing seven times so far, including a fourth place finish this past week in the $10,000 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em Championship.

It was at that final table that, according to PokerListings, Ferguson heard it from some of the crowd. Some just booed weakly, but poker player Daniel Levy, in particular, let him have it. At one point, after Ferguson pointed out a dealer mistake to the floor, Levy yelled from the rail, “Why don’t you just trust Chris? He would never lie.”

Later, after Ferguson was eliminated, Levy yelled at “Jesus” and his fans, “You have no shame. None of you. You’re all terrible people and you know it.”

Levy told PokerListings that Ferguson was a “piece of shit” and that he wasn’t welcome at the WSOP.

Which gets me back to my main topic: should Lederer and Ferguson be officially unwelcomed by the World Series of Poker? Should they be banned from attending?

I hate to use the “slippery slope” argument, as it is often used by people with horrible opinions to defend their horrible opinions, but in this case, I would be wary of the WSOP handing down such a harsh penalty when the men were involved with something that didn’t even have to do with the WSOP. So Lederer and Ferguson (and others that were named in the indictments) are banned, great – then what? If someone else does something that angers the poker community but perhaps isn’t as bad as what those guys did, do they get banned? What about all the players – guys like Justin Bonomo – that were found to have cheated online? Ban?

It’s not that I want Lederer and Ferguson to play at the WSOP. They can go sit at home and cry about it and it would please me very much – I certainly don’t like that Ferguson, for example, won a bunch of money from players in his recent tournament. But I just get nervous that a banishment for them could lead to other harsh punishments for others later, punishments that perhaps aren’t deserved. Besides, we don’t actually know for sure that either man had anything to do with the Black Friday mess. It is likely that they at least knew about the funny business going on, but as far as I know, it was never proven that they had a hand in anything. Again, I don’t like them and would be perfectly content for them to just go away for good with nothing to show for their time at Full Tilt but a mouse pad and set of shot glasses, but I think we need to be careful. Let them accept the consequences of showing up, but allow them the choice of showing up.

Look, aside from possibly winning money. These two, especially Ferguson, from the sounds of it, aren’t ENJOYING their time at the WSOP. If they want to deal with hecklers and thousands of pairs of stink-eyes, I say let them. If it gets to be too much, they’ll tuck their tails between their legs and scurry away for another five years.

What I don’t get is why they feel like they HAVE to play in the WSOP. I know it is the largest, most prestigious poker festival in the world and that there is lots of money to be won, but they really want to deal with all the shit they are going to have to take? They can really concentrate through it all? There is plenty of online poker to be played; just create some accounts, don’t use your real name as your screen name, and play to your heart’s content from your living room. Sure, it’s not the same as live tournament poker, but it would certainly save a lot of people a lot of grief.

And haven’t these two caused enough grief already?

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