Author: Anton Johan
This is indeed the question currently reverberating around the
online gambling industry following the news that earlier this week
Full Tilt Poker founder and CEO Ray Bitar flew from the online poker
room's headquarters in Ireland to New York City to hand himself over
to U.S. Authorities.
Bitar was arrested Monday morning at JFK International airport on
the orders of the U.S. Department of Justice, and will face a slew
of charges including conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire
fraud, conspiracy to violate gambling laws, running an illegal
online gambling business and more.
If convicted of these charges, 40-year-old Bitar faces up to 145
years in federal prison. Bitar pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan
federal court hearing on Monday. After the hearing, the online
gaming executive agreed to pay a bail bond of $2.5 million, which
means he'll be released on his own recognisance.
A Multi-Million Dollar Ponzi Scheme
While the Full Tilt Poker saga
has been ongoing for more
than a year, it has only recently come to light just how fraudulent
the whole operation was. Bitar and his co-conspirators are thought
to have defrauded the poker site's thousands of registered players
to the tune of $350 million, in what is now being widely described
as a "multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme."
The Full Tilt Poker Ponzi scheme started in April last year, when
Bitar and 10 other online gambling executives were indicted by the
US government in a crackdown on online poker in the U.S. in an
operation now infamously known as "Black Friday." Full Tilt and
rival sites Absolute Poker and Poker Stars were specifically
As part of the crackdown, the FBI seized and froze the Full Tilt
Poker website and operation, leaving the site's thousands of players
- including many based in the United States - with no way of
accessing their funds. Fifteen months down the line and that is
unfortunately still the case.
Full Tilt Poker down to Last $70 million
And although many affected players have been hopeful that they would
eventually get their funds out, the revelation that the internet
poker room reportedly has no more than $70 million left in its
coffers, which is nowhere close to the $350 million owed to them,
has finally sunk in.
As a result, many are starting to accept that the chances of them
ever seeing all of their money returned are slim to none, and that
they are officially part of one of, if not the, biggest online
gambling frauds perpetrated to date. They have also realised that
all along Bitar has lied about the security of their funds.
While fraudsters and conmen are nothing new, and are certainly not
limited to the online gambling industry - just look at the current
global banking industry to see even greater villains - Bitar and co
just happened to commit fraud in an industry with a naturally shaky
and fragile reputation.
Always Been a Handful of Bad Seeds
Ever since the birth of online gambling, alongside the very pioneers
that have built the popular internet pastime into the highly
entertaining, lucrative and widespread activity it is today, there
have always been a handful of "bad seeds" intent on defrauding
players to line their seemingly bottomless pockets.
And although the advent of online gambling jurisdictions, licenses,
regulation, audits and online gambling watchdog organisations have
helped turned the industry into an honest, safe, secure, reputable
and trusted one for the most part, the ugly reality is that
unscrupulous executives like Bitar do exist.
Thankfully, however, they are the exception not the rule. But the
question again is has Full Tilt Poker sullied online gambling?
Yes, Full Tilt has Sullied Online Gambling
The answer is, of course, yes. With the governments of so many
countries still very much anti-online gambling - the United States
included, the Full Tilt Poker saga has provided many of them with
yet more fuel for the "anti-online gambling fire", which will make
it even harder for proponents of legalised and regulated online
Ironically, perhaps, before the scandal, Full Tilt Poker was widely
considered to be one of the world's best online poker rooms, which
was even endorsed by many of the world's top poker pros including
Chris "Jesus" Ferguson (who was also indicted by U.S. authorities),
Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, John Juanda, Jennifer Harman and many
Posted by Anton Johan at 15:56 on 4 July 2012