The Long-Forgotten Intercash ‘Black Friday’ Tale
Here’s another one of those almost-forgotten online-poker stories, centering on 2011’s “Black Friday” crackdown against US-facing online site Full Tilt Poker and a shuffling of affiliate revenue through international “player” accounts in a scramble by connected insiders to get the last dregs of money off a mostly frozen site. The tale involves the Tony G-era PokerNews and Australian poker pro and businessman Gary Benson’s Intercash service, with the whole matter eventually being wrapped up in an Australian court judgment issued earlier this year.
This is one of these stories that nobody, but nobody, covered at the time, since the ruling never made it into any online court-news ledgers. I ran across a link to it some weeks after the fact, and given its already aging nature, figured I’d save it for the ‘tween-the-holidays news interregnum.
So what’s it all about? Well, most folks reading this already know that Full Tilt Poker and three other major US sites were forced offline on April 15, 2011, when the US Department of Justice seized domains and indicted both companies and individuals involved with the sites. What fewer folks remember is that Full Tilt Poker lingered around for a couple of more months, open to only players outside the US, until its secondary operating license was yanked in June 2011 by the Alderney Gaming Control Commission.
Most of the old FTP site’s players were Americans, and those accounts, tens of thousands of them, were frozen. Yet by the bits and pieces of what emerged, the US DOJ didn’t succeed in identifying all of the offshore processing accounts. Until June of 2011, some money was moved off the site via nominal “player” accounts, such as an account belonging to “OzGary” Benson and his Intercash operation.
What was Intercash? It was a little service that Benson conjured up using his industry connections to help players get their withdrawals off sites such as Full Tilt faster, in exchange for a few percent off the top. Full Tilt, as with many other US-facing sites, had faced processing delays for years. In Full Tilt’s case, the slowdowns began as early as 2008, when US authorities began a lengthy whack-a-mole game targeting these third-party processors that ultimately led to the takedown of much of the US-facing online poker biz. (I’m not certain, but I believe the modern-day Intercash is the same firm, having undergone some significant changes since its earliest days — hh.)
All that serves as background, and it’s a separate tale we’ve explored in the past. Full Tilt Poker operated at least a couple of dozen business entities in numerous countries around the globe, yet the ongoing investigations run by the DOJ and FTC were peeling FTP’s online-poker, revealing many of these entities as time went on. Among them, an entity called Filco Limited, incorporated in Alderney in the UK.
Money still moved through Filco for some weeks after Black Friday, but channels were closing daily. And PokerNews, or at that point, Tony G, still had affiliate revenue tied up on FTP. So, he instructed one of PN’s business execs, Tony Bromham, to handle the movement of $285,000 out of a PokerNews “player” account at FTP called “pokernews1”. The Australian court ruling describes it this way:
On the evening of 22 June 2011, Mr Benson received an automated message to the effect that a request had been received to transfer $285,000 from iBus Media’s player account into his OzGary and that processing of this transfer request might take 24-48 hours. Later that evening, he received an email from Mr Tony Bromham of iBus Media relevantly stating:
“Tony G has instructed me to send $285,000 to you (‘OzGary’) from our company FTP player account ‘pokernews1’. These funds need to be wired to our bank account as follows. I don’t know what terms were agreed between you and Tony but please send the net funds to: …”
Understand that player-to-player transfers within Full Tilt Poker had long since been frozen, as had all normal methods of player withdrawals. All this secret transferring was done inside the connected (and very corrupt) workings of the old FTP. Anyway, the $285,000 was duly transferred over from “pokernews1” to “OzGary”, but then the Alderney hammer fell, and the old FTP was done for good. That money — in a real, spendable sense — never got out of the Full Tilt (Filco) account and on to Benson, and thence on from there to PokerNews. In September 2011, PN parent iBus Media filed suit against Benson over the frozen funds, despite knowing damn well Benson at that point had no way to cash out the under-the-radar transfer.
Fast forward several years. By this time, PokerStars has settled its own Black Friday issues with the DOJ. In the process, it acquires all of the old Full Tilt Poker assets and agrees to refund all the old FTP players who have had their funds frozen for years. However, the deal struck between PokerStars and the DOJ does not stretch to Full Tilt Poker’s former business partners. All US-based affiliates and sponsored pros lose big as a result of the deal.
Yet for PokerNews and Benson, things were a bit different. Despite the fact that both the “pokernews1” and Benson’s “OzGary” account were clearly carrying on affiliate business via the $285,000 transfer, as the evidence clearly showed, the Australian court still ruled that because the old Full Tilt Poker had labeled Benson’s account as a “player” account, new Full Tilt owner PokerStars would be liable for the $285,000. That was the end result that legal claim PN/iBus Media filed against Benson and Intercash, winning there, and Benson later sought to reclaim the $285,000 from Full Tilt and then PokerStars, after Stars acquired FTP.
PokerStars did reopen Benson’s “OzGary” account as a player account, but less the $285,000 transfer coming from PokerNews. And though he lost the initial ruling, he won the matter on an appellate reversal. The Aussie appellate ruling examined the terms of the Stars-USDOJ ruling in some depth, and then rejected those terms in their entirety, ruling that because the “OzGary” account had been classified as a “player” account, that was good enough. It mattered not, it seemed, that the account explicitly had been used for non-playing purposes, which, well, seems to defy both justice and common sense.
The kicker to all this is realizing that the matter was clearly shopped into the Australian jurisdiction, where Benson resides and where the old PokerNews and Tony G also long had/have a presence. It says here the matter never belonged there, despite the Aussie court system accepting the case. Essentially, PokerNews and The Stars Group coughed up an additional $285,000 that may already have been factored into Stars’ settlement with the DOJ. Filco Limited’s processing role was known by this point, and this $285,000 transfer might have been ID’d as a business transaction, with it then being forfeited into the business part of the 2012 settlement.
The public won’t likely ever know, but PokerStars might have paid this $285,000 bill twice.