More Delays as Details Emerge in Ongoing PokerTribe.com Comedy
The forehead-slapping saga of wannabe online-poker site PokerTribe.com is back in the news, courtesy of an Oklahoma newspaper update this week that work supposedly continues on the hapless project, despite — you guessed it — ever more delays in bringing any sort of real-money online poker product to market.
Also emerging, via an update on the topic at NewsOK.com, is the total amount that the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma is reportedly on the hook for in its deal with Florida-based Universal Entertainment Group [UEG]. The amount being ponied up by the Iowas? $10 million.
That investment follows the earlier writeoff of $9.5 million by a different Oklahoma tribal partner, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, when they hooked up with UEG. That not-so-radically-different offering, called PokerTribes.com, with the “s”, was pitched by UEG and the Cheyenne and Arapahos back in 2013. That led in turn to a federal lawsuit by that tribe to assert its right to operate such a site, which was envisioned as an online-poker offering catering to non-US-based players who might somehow want to play on a US-based tribal site… for whatever unfathomable reason.
Eventually, despite winning the federal lawsuit, the C & A tribe’s leaders balked at the money drain, eventually walking away from the project amid a change in tribal leadership and much acrimony over the spending. In an update at the time, UEG managing director Isaias Almira said, “We spent close to $40 million on this project. The Cheyenne and Arapahos spent close to $10 million on this project. And due to the political agenda taking office, they are destroying everything. It just doesn’t make sense.”
There’s little evidence to support Almira’s claim of having spent that much on the project, though there are plenty of photos showing Almira, UEG’s Fred Khalilian and others partying it up in Washington DC, on “lobbying” trips. Hint: Given that the issue facing the original Cheyenne and Arapaho’s PokerTribes.com plans was a lawsuit-entangled gaming issue, not a political one, one can wonder openly how much of that “lobbying” was actually necessary.)
One can search for “Almira” in that lengthy Department of the Interior submission by a C & A tribal member to see some of the UEG-related stuff. And that in turn leads to a “what in the hell” moment — or two — involving Almira’s own letter to the DOI, in response to the tribal member’s claims.
Khalilian, now reported as a consultant for UEG, though he appears to be the company’s driving force, has had his own difficulties, including a $4.2 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over a separate Khalilian firm that was, according to the FTC, bamboozling customers. As the FTC stated, victims were “bombarded with illegal robocalls and tricked into paying thousands of dollars for bogus ‘extended auto warranties'” from a brand called “My Car Solutions,” all controlled by Khalilian.
Its enough to make one question that $40 million figure, claimed as having been invested by UEG. If one recalls the rudimentary online offerings put up at pokertribes.com and pokertribe.com (there are some examples here, in the post in which the current PokerTribe plan was first announced), the amount of money that was spent of programming and development looked to be closer to $40 than $40 million. UEG does have a play-money poker site up at uegpoker.com, not that there’s any sign that anyone plays there. But really, $40 million of business development, and that’s what you can show?
Aye, but there’s more. As the NewsOK piece notes, the Iowa Tribe has purchased 51 percent of the “software entity,” which is probably UEG. The other 49 percent was in the news a few months ago as well. That was associated with the comical deal supposedly signed by rapper Soulja Boy, who was going to receive $400 million (!) from an outfit called World Poker Fund Holdings, Inc.
World Poker Fund Holdings was supposed to be buying the other 49 percent of the company, with the host of celebs supposedly behind WPFH including ol’ Soulja, Justin Bieber, Tyga, retired athletes Floyd Mayweather and Tracy McGrady, and others. Except they all backed out of the deal at some point in the last six or seven months.
Ai-i-aii. So much disarray, and that’s without even talking about the latest twists in the UEG dream for the future. First, more delays. Supposedly, real-money play will now begin sometime this winter, and stage two, in which PokerTribe.com will offer real-money poker and casino games on international airline flights, is supposed to be rolled out next year. Both ideas had previously announced, and both seem to be prime examples of a product concept that lacks a key component: a waiting and willing target market.
Even supposing that one will gamble for real money on their smartphones — Hint #2: they can already — the idea of a product that services “only” international flights chops off the vast majority of airline customers. Lots more disappear from a potential target audience for other reasons, until all that’s left is US players on overseas flights, like an online version of a casino boat in international waters. The problem is that such a product would take a ton of marketing expense to reach a relatively small audience… it just doesn’t come close to making financial sense.
UEG might have grand dreams. One can nose around the UEGPoker.com site and find similar stubs for UEGBlackJack.com, UEGBingo.com, UEGPullTabs.com, and UEGSlots.com. Dreams are fine, but this one’s a money pit, one that two Oklahoma federal tribes in succession appear to be on the hook to fund. And the odds of it leading to a viable, successful, profitable product appear as formidable as ever.
(Author’s note: The opinions offered here do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the owners or publishers of Flushdraw.)