PPC Poker Tour Facing Demise Amidst Aruba Final Table Payout Scandal

On December 17th, professional poker player and Ante Up Magazine writer, Brent Philbin, posting on TwoPlusTwo under the name “Clickitbak”, brought attention to the fact that the Player’s Poker Championship (PPC) has been slowpaying winnings owed to the top seven finishers in its Aruba stop main event, which was held the first week in November. The event was a $2,400 buy-in with a $500k guarantee that drew 266 entries, yet as of the time of this publication, it has been exposed that the PPC still has yet to make good on most its final table prizes, which exceed $350k.

Sandy Swartzbaugh and Bryan Oulton of the PPC Poker Tour posing with the as of yet unpaid winner of the No Limit Hold’em Main Event in Aruba, Stephen Deutsch.

For what in hindsight now appear to be suspiciously vague reasons attributed to gaming laws in Aruba, the PPC put a cap of $10,000 to be paid out to winners at the event, with the promise of full payment coming within two to three weeks via wire transfer. In the time since Philbin broke the news, it has come to light that the PPC has had a history of delaying payments to its winners, a fact that was not considered to be newsworthy until very recently, as reportedly virtually all of the players in question were eventually made whole within a few weeks’ time.

It appears that this time around, however, patient players won’t be getting so lucky. Current news of payment delays not only encompasses recent tournament winners, but also several PPC employees and at least one sponsored pro. The tournament co-owners, Sandy Swartzbaugh and Bryan Oulton, have been dodging the spotlight and gone dark on their communications with the media and debt holders. As news of the tournament’s Aruba troubles have gained traction, they have failed to respond to inquiries regarding the missing funds, deleted any messages or criticisms concerning payouts on their Facebook page, stripped information and links from their homepage, and deleted their Twitter accounts.

The PPC Seeks out New Investment Capital in Ponzi-Like Move

Despite having cash flow issues, the PPC appears to have been busy soliciting a new round of investors by email to support additional stops for their 2017 tour. A copy of the email in question was sent by Swartzbaugh to TwoPlusTwo member BKiCe on November 21st and can be viewed in its entirety here. Given the timing, this move is being regarded as an attempt to settle its issues with its current debt holders with newly acquired capital in a desperate attempt to stay afloat.

Perhaps even more alarming, they have also begun aggressively contacting casinos with the offer to spread unscheduled free tournaments at their venues. In so doing, they are offering to waive the fee they normally collect from casinos during such outings, with the stipulation that the host casino award a preset number of prize packages to upcoming major PPC events as compensation for their services. It is highly suspected that the PPC owners are raiding the funds collected from these tournament packages, as passing up their regular fee in exchange for rake gained from a few additional upcoming tournament entries makes little to no sense from a financial perspective.

With this information in hand, TwoPlusTwo posters have since speculated that even though the tour may have started as a legitimate business venture back in 2010, problems of mismanagement, overspending, and most critically, co-mingling of prize pool funds and operational expenditure accounts have eventually led to a scenario nearly identical in nature to the Full Tilt Poker fiasco witnessed back in 2011.

Sponsored Pros and Community at Large Begin Distancing Themselves from the PPC over Payout Concerns

On December 22, Chris “Fox” Wallace, a sponsored pro of the PPC, dropped into the forum to report on his own payout troubles after having been linked to the thread by a friend the previous day. According to Wallace, the PPC has owed him an undisclosed amount that dates back to September, yet he was not concerned until he saw just how far in debt to its players the PPC actually was.

He texted Swartzbaugh to find out the status of his money and was given a similar version of the story that has thus far been told to those seeking winnings or travel reimbursements: that a check had been sent and must have gotten lost in the mail, a new check would be sent out shortly, and the issue would be resolved after the holidays and the owners are back in office in the United States. Wallace confirmed that Sandy was aware of the thread started by Philbin and promised to offer more information on the 23rd, but soon thereafter stopped responding to Wallace’s messages and has yet to make any public statement on behalf of the PPC.

A mere eight minutes after Fox delivered his report, Mike Hanson of the Madison Poker Community released their official statement on the issue on the thread. Having made several unsuccessful attempts to act as an intermediary between the players and PPC owners to resolve the outstanding debt (calculated at $357,100), Hanson concluded that no satisfactory resolution would be reached, and thus, the MPC and now-former PPC Tour Pros, Mark “Poker H0” Kroon, Ronnie Bardah, and Chris “Fox” Wallace were formally withdrawing their support for the tour and severing ties with PPC management.

Christmas came a day early for those now rooting for the downfall of the PPC, as the following day, Hanson posted the contents of a message he had received from Tampa Bay Downs Casino that read as follows:

“Thank you for including us in this post. Upon learning of this situation with unpaid players and following along with all the threads, as well as not hearing a viable solution to getting this matter resolved in a timely fashion, we have also made the decision to severe our relationship with the PPC Poker Tour. All future events have been canceled.”

In light of this prompt feedback from Tampa Bay Downs, it is easy to foresee more scheduled locations following suit, thus closing the lid on the casket of whatever remains of the PPC Poker Tour.

The Aftermath of yet Another Scandal

Regardless of whether the funds were stolen, mishandled, or still forthcoming in good faith, the complete lack of transparency by the PPC and poor communication (at best) with the aggrieved parties is probable cause for them to be ostracized from the poker community. Given poker’s tumultuous last decade, we have every reason to be suspicious of those who handle large amounts of cash designated for escrow, yet can’t or won’t pay out upon demand.

This recent development will almost certainly cause greater scrutiny of who handles the cash transactions during an outsider event on casino grounds, where said cash is presumably protected by the venue and local gaming laws. We are quite likely to find out soon where the liability ultimately lies, as all signs point to empty coffers where the PPC is concerned. A much smaller, albeit not insignificant factor to be considered is the question of what happens to players who have accumulated GPI or POY points from the results of a tournament that failed to payout its top money finishers before subsequently vanishing from future rankings? I predict that the points that these players earned are likely to stand, particularly with the lack of precedence for a formal ruling on their legitimacy under the circumstances. Philbin, who was instrumental in providing information necessary for this article, would consider their disqualification to be just another form of theft by the PPC organizers. In his own words:

“I would hate to see that taken away from the players too. They’re being screwed out of a prize pool already. I hope GPI and other POY rankings makes the decision to award those points to them. They played a poker tournament and bested the field, they should get the points.”

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