Former Full Tilt Poker co-owner Chris Ferguson took to the VIMEO airwaves this week to release a conciliatory clip to poker players affected by the Ponzi Scheme that was managed by the six-time WSOP bracelet winner along with fellow FTP shareholders Howard Lederer and Ray Bitar.
The 40-second monologue is Ferguson’s first public communication in the years since the company victimized online poker players to the tune of $430 million.
Highlights from Ferguson’s video include:
- Chris Ferguson “deeply regrets” the events surrounding Black Friday and the FTP Ponzi Scheme.
- Chris Ferguson says the entire FTP Ponzi Scheme story will be told “one day.”
- Chris Ferguson will participate in the 2018 WSOP.
Chris Ferguson releases a statement to the poker world… thanks for your timely response Chris.https://t.co/fiIhT8tUgq
— Joey Ingram (@Joeingram1) May 24, 2018
Full Tilt Poker notoriously did not segregate poker player funds from operating expenses leading up to Black Friday, and instead used them to pay out massive bonuses to player-executives. This “musical chairs” approach to abusing player funds came to an end for FTP on April 15th, 2011, when U.S. officials seized the domains of high profile sites that were accepting deposits from American players.
Although the vast majority of those funds were eventually paid back via a claims process administered by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Garden City Group, players had to scramble for years to comply with guidelines in order to receive refunds — with tens of millions in player balances never being paid out.
Past Issues with Player Endorsements of Poker Sites
The world’s leading WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth posted his reaction to Ferguson’s video Thursday, informing poker players and fans that those who have “judged Chris so harshly” are “haters” who “will be surprised” once those intimately familiar with the story finally get around to revealing their version of events.
This makes no sense
— Joey Ingram (@Joeingram1) May 24, 2018
Such rhetoric has become commonplace among a small, yet vocal group of “old school” poker celebrities in recent years who have taken massive community hits to their reputation — typically as a result of becoming lead endorsers for poker operators who have employed questionable-to-appalling business practices while benefiting from the exposure these pros have offered.
For example, 14-time World Series of Poker bracelet champion Hellmuth (also known as the “Poker Brat”) has been an undeniable promotional force within the poker industry for decades, attracting new players to the game and networking to spread poker to contacts outside the traditional realm of gambling.
But Phil Hellmuth was also a lead spokesperson for the Cereus Network — a backdoor, superuser cheating operator that included once-popular sites Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker.
He faced pointed criticism for his endorsement of CN/UB/AP for the years leading up to Black Friday in a September 2015 Reddit AMA Thread. And although the “Poker Brat” has been at least somewhat accommodating to answering questions related to the scandal, his responses don’t exactly engender feelings of blind trust towards poker sites that are being feverishly promoted by big name pros.
“If I leave [Ultimate Bet] it’s probably going to go out of business,” Hellmuth told Doug Polk in a candid August 2017 interview — referring to why he decided to continue his business relationship with the company even after player-interest watchdogs had revealed that the sites were a haven for real money online poker cheating. “Maybe my ego’s too big, but I thought it might go out of business.”
(CUED TIMESTAMP 1:26:11 – 1:28:30 OF VIDEO BELOW)
That justification may be reasonable and considerate from an operator standpoint, but it flies in the face of poker players who were victimized by the company — only to receive disbursements years later via a separate fund, and only then after being forced to relinquish personal info details to third parties as part of the claims process.
Another example of “player endorsements gone wrong” is Daniel Negreanu, who called Ferguson’s silence regarding the FTP Ponzi Scheme “cowardly” back in November 2017.
Negreanu has been a legitimate “industry superstar” since rising through the ranks of PokerStars and being anointed as the “Headline Pro” in the late 2000s by original founders Mark and Isai Scheinberg. “Kid Poker” has also endeared himself to many fans by engaging on a number of controversial topics along with moments of genuine outreach to both veteran and casual players.
But Daniel Negreanu’s empty November 2015 promise to high volume players that he would resign (if then-Amaya decision makers didn’t honor cashback payouts that were clearly marketed to loyal PokerStars customers), initiated a gradual rift between the world’s all-time live tournament cash prize winner and non-spnosored players.
That rift was accentuated during the 2017 WSOP when Negreanu released a distasteful video which contained thinly-veiled threats against high profile YouTube rival and PokerStars critic Doug Polk.
(CUED TIMESTAMP 5:49 – 6:35 OF VIDEO BELOW)
Negreanu’s tactics to drown-out Polk supporters turned to bitterness in the days prior to the 4th Annual American Poker Awards, with the $36.5 million live event cash prize winner taking to social media in an effort to spread negativity concerning Polk — while promoting Poker Central owner Cary Katz for “Influencer of The Year” honors in the process — a company that both Negreanu and Hellmuth are invested in (although they fail to publicly disclose this in their social media outreach).
Despite this (and other ill-conceived actions or omissions), Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth have both established themselves within the poker industry through years of community-focused outreach and promotion of the game, and do possess the hierarchical credentials to ignore warnings from industry columnists while the pair hopefully get in The Lab to learn more about gambling promotion rules and guidelines in the meantime.
However, Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer do not enjoy such a broad scope of influence among media representatives who might be willing to defend “Kid Poker” or the “Poker Brat” in recognition of their contributions to the industry.
Gambling Marketplace Loyalties Are Shifting
Chris Ferguson being granted the benefit of the doubt and lent support by a handful of longtime poker celebrities and media representatives (some of whom blast Ferguson critics for not being 100% informed on the “real story” behind the FTP Ponzi Scheme) comes at a time when marketplace impatience with gambling industry operators and “plausible deniability” excuses is at an all-time high.
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) November 2, 2017
Meanwhile, fan engagement for “gatekeeper” poker personalities (who are much quicker to warn vulnerable real money gamblers about the misleading advertising and fraudulent activities that have resulted in poker bankrolls being stolen by sites in the past) has soared due to the operator-facing scandals that some of the “older generation” pros have become embroiled in.
Should Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer Skip the WSOP?
The question of whether Chris Ferguson and other executives who were at least partially responsible for the demise of Full Tilt Poker should pass on attending high profile tournaments has been debated since the former FTP shareholders ceased their self-imposed exile from such showcases in 2016.
Common sense would dictate that Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer should stay away from high profile poker events such as the WSOP, if only as a considerate gesture towards the many players who suffered as a result of their involvement in the FTP Ponzi Scheme.
But that’s certainly not what Ferguson has in mind. Instead, the poker personality formerly known as “Jesus” is hell-bent on competing against veteran poker players who were ripped off, in an atmosphere that causes obvious discomfort and heated emotions among a meaningful percentage of participants.
READ: Danielle Andersen Confronts Howard Lederer at WSOP (Lance Bradley – PocketFives – Jul 11, 2016)
READ: Chris Ferguson’s Secret FTP Bank Accounts and Threats to GBT Deal (Diamond Flush – Jan 25, 2012)
As many online poker historians are quick to point out, it was PokerStars that came up with the money to reimburse Full Tilt Poker victims — not Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer or Ray Bitar.
Perhaps Ferguson would be better served by having time off from the WSOP this summer to prepare whatever masterpiece of a story he’s holding on to… a rumored knockdown, drag-out, slobber-knocker of a yarn that has consistently been used by his supporters to silence critics for seven years.
Questions for Chris Ferguson Following Video Release
Chris Ferguson’s on-camera resurgence leads to a number of questions for the former Full Tilt Poker shareholder, such as:
- Is there a definite timeline for when the “Chris Ferguson Story” will be ready for public consumption?
- What are the chances that this version of events (if and when it’s revealed) further incites a large group of FTP victims rather than having the assumed desired effect of shutting them up?
- Does Chris Ferguson have plans to represent regulated U.S. online poker in the future (OMG)?
- When confronted about reimbursing player funds, did Chris Ferguson run and “hide back to Phoenix” as Daniel Negreanu suggests at the 1:14:04 mark of FCP Podcast Episode #16?
- Did Chris Ferguson submit “false books” to other FTP executives, as claimed by Howard Lederer?
(CUED TIMESTAMP 3:28:27 to 3:29:05 of Poker Life Podcast – Apr 21, 2018)
Perhaps “one day” the complete FTP story will be revealed, and critics of Ferguson (or Lederer, or Bitar) will be proven to have preemptively misjudged the roles these individuals had in the Full Tilt Poker debacle, or to have disproportionately assigned social blame for specific mistakes.
But as Barry Greenstein informed Poker Life Podcast viewers last month (watch 3:19:35 to 3:20:58 of the embedded video above), players who were negatively affected by FTP’s missteps have a “reason to be mad.”
Chris Ferguson “Player of The Year” Clown Show at 2018 WSOP
By all accounts, Chris Ferguson has ample resources to improve himself through his own means, at his own leisure, and without adding even more controversy to the issue through his 2018 WSOP participation.
The World Series of Poker should probably “cut bait” with Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer — which would put an end to the brand’s indirect enabling of the ongoing former FTP shareholder clown show. But familiar alliances die hard, and doing so might disrupt Ferguson and Lederer’s pipe dream of “one day” becoming legitimate WSOP Hall of Fame Members.
For further insight on this topic, our readers are invited to participate in real-time discussion within the official TwoPlusTwo NVG Reaction Thread.
* The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to me, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website, poker players, poker media, the poker industry, or individuals/companies that I collaborate with.
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