Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Ivey Impact

Artist, Margaret W. Tarrant
On the day the 2011 World Series of Poker kicked off, its most famous player and the most recognized face of Full Tilt Poker, Mr. Phil Ivey, essentially showed the world poker's ass.  I'm not saying Phil Ivey is an ass. I'm saying that the inability of Ivey and the other powers that be behind Full Tilt to come to an agreement *before* he took to his FB page and filed a lawsuit against his former business partners means that a whole bunch (more) of poker's dirty laundry will soon become fodder for the grist mill. This, in turn, will further blacken the shiner the industry's been sporting since Black Friday.

The DOJ's action on Black Friday (warranted as it was) was bad enough and certainly brought to light some of online poker's worst business practices.  Since then, though, and thanks to Twitter and Quad Jacks, I've learned so much more about some aspects of the poker community and about online poker, in particular, that I'm just pretty much disgusted with the whole thing.

For example, apparently it is actually a lot more common than I thought for pros to multi-account (i.e., cheat).  For every Nick Rainey, how many others *don't* we know about?  I can't help it. After hearing Nick publicly admit to cheating on QuadJacks this week, I am questioning *every* major win online. In my mind, ghosting/multi-accounting in online poker is no different than doping in professional sports and a fail safe mechanism to protect against the activity must be implemented when regs eventually get passed legislating online poker. If you guys want more fish in your pond, then you better clean the freaking lake. If not, how can an amateur like me encourage people like my mom or family members or friends to give it a try when, and if, it ever gets regulated? Right now, I would tell even my worst enemy to avoid online poker like the plague (yes, moot point, I know, but you see what I mean...I hope). And honestly, knowing how well our federal government regulates things...?  Sigh.

But let's look at what else is disgusting...When I first read Ivey's FB page post, I admired his statement and I still do. Dude drew first blood and was able to frame the action in a manner most favorable to him. In the court of public opinion, he aligned himself with, and championed, all players wronged by Full Tilt's horrible business practices. But be clear what he's doing.  This is not about my frozen FT bankroll and it ain't about yours. Nope, this is very much about Ivey protecting what's his, as *any* good businessman should do. As @Grange95 so succinctly put it, "Ivey's lawsuit is 99.44% about Ivey's contract, non-compete clause, & funds on Full Tilt. Other players? Lip service."

For *anyone* to bash Ivey for doing that, they're crazy. He's not your uncle, your counselor, your savior.  He's a brand, a business man, and an entity unto himself. He made that happen. Not FullTilt and not Tony G and not Mike the Mouth or anyone else. If that were you, and your livelihood was on the line - what would you do?  Seriously. Think about it. If you tried to work things out with your partners to no avail, you'd lawyer up. And that's what's happened here.  Litigation, like the making of sausage, is really a gross and unpleasant endeavor and the longer this goes on the up sausage casing, I guess, we're going to see.  I'm sad that it won't just be us, the poker community, seeing it. I can only hope, though, that all of this will serve as a catalyst to get online poker back up and running in a safe and regulated environment (that is not raked so bad that it becomes cost prohibitive).

This post is not a "Team Ivey" or a "Team whoever" post. It's just my opinion about what I see a businessman doing, which for better or worse has an impact on a lot of other people.  But it's for that reason that I think it's pretty gross to see people in the industry, especially some of the more vocal pros of late, publicly decrying Ivey's actions and laying the groundwork to, in effect, blame him for Full Tilt's failures. Ivey filing this lawsuit, sure, may not have been good for Full Tilt's ability to get funding to pay players back - but how is Full Tilt's inability to pay Ivey's fault? 

Unless it is shown that Ivey is responsible for the entirety of FT's business practices, including drafting, overseeing, and ultimately approving the agreements that allowed the non-segregation of player funds, then this public blamefest is nothing more than form over substance (which, sadly, happens every day when business deals go sour and former partners become locked in a death battle to "get what's theirs").  Do you honestly believe, though, that any of the pros, much less Ivey, were involved to that extent? (Whether they should've been and/or have provisions protecting them from the actions and omissions of their partners is another issue and not the subject of this post.)

I mean, it's like one minute these pros (I'm thinking of a couple) hate each other and are mortal enemies, but the next, they're best friends aligned in support of the hate on Ivey train. Talk about your flip's just gross guys, so please stop.  Plus, I honestly can't help but see it as just another PR ploy (akin to Ivey's FB statement, but a day late and a dollar short - because IVEY GOT THERE FIRST) to "manage the damage" in the court of public opinion. 

In life, everyone's always shooting for an angle. Good poker players know this better than the general public and better than even the best of lawyers.  Ivey is, arguably, the best poker player in the world. The impact his most recent actions will have on the poker industry will be worth watching for a long time to come. I, like many, wish those actions could have been observed on the felt rather than in a courtroom, but you tell me, who do we really have to blame for that?


  1. Well put Carol, BTW We miss ya on the QJ show. What gets me is ppl going off on Ivey for stupid reasons. MY own theory is that Ivey was a silent partner and not actively involved in Management unlike Howard and Jesus. There is a 'rumor' that Ivey offered to go to Ireland to help address the issue and was politely told to butt out by Howard and company. My gut tells me Ivey did this yes to protect himself but there is a part of me that also wonders if he didnt do it to force public discovery of the extent of the possibly criminal fraud perpetrated by FTP as far as cooking the books and what not that is a possibility. Nobody has proof but the rumors are abounding there was a bunch of questionable accounting that goes beyond just not keeping funds segregated. Ive had to remind more then afew peopl that unless the corporate veil was pierced by such actions then personal liability of the owners is pretty limited in the case of a business failure but most just dont get it they want blood from a turnip in this case. I dont know if you coming on and explaining the potential ramifications of a failure of Full Tilt Poker as a business would help or not but it seems alot of people just dont 'get it' as far as the reality of failure of a corporate entity should that come to pass.. I also pointed out that its interesting to note that Ivey went after Tiltware LLC which is the SOftware arm for FTP and in reality maybe the one asset that retains value should Full Tilt as a company fail, as the software engine and licensing would maintain value outside of the company failure. Just my 2cts worth.

  2. Hi David - thanks a bunch for commenting, you have a lot of good information. Wanted to say, I think you have me confused with @ckbwop (Carol), who is an actual gaming attorney (unlike me!) - but I love it b/c I think she's awesome, so thanks for that.

    You raise some good points and I really hope it gets sorted out soon. To understand what the reality of the failure of a corporate entity would mean, see Enron. =( (not that I'm comparing FT to Enron, but maybe you get my meaning)

  3. well put Poker Lawyer. thank you for putting a different perspective out there. Alltho i realize that Phil Ivey is a brand, i never realized that Full Tilt could be damaging him could cause him to lose value.

  4. Fine post.

    Listening to the sociopathic Nick Rainey was pretty disheartening.

    I think sadly where money is involved there will always be predatory conduct and while a State based regulatory structure will not magically solve all of the problems inherent in such a situation, it will improve transparency and bring some sunshine as Justice Cardozo might say, to the situation as a whole.

    I think Full Tilt will not pay me or its other customers, but I think that was likely whether or not its former representatives and various and sundry owners began suing it. Since their customer base was primarily American and since there seemed to be no financial controls at all, this was inevitable.

  5. In my opinion, Phil Ivey suing Tiltware is like the asshole suing the turd.

  6. Astute assessment. Thanks for sharing.

  7. For those claiming that Ivey's actions are mostly selfish, how do you explain his boycotting of the WSOP? What's his selfish benefit of denying himself those opportunities?

    And I wouldn't say it's completely unfair to blame Ivey for Full Tilt's problems. Whether they're his fault or not, he endorsed Full Tilt Poker. The failures of an organization he endorsed reflects on him, that's how it works.

  8. Good post poker lawyer........Right on the spot

  9. Great read! Good points. What do you think are the possibilities if everyone FTP owed money to jumped on the Ivey bandwagon in class action? True he is going after his non compete but they owe all these peeps 150 million according to filed documents. So you have a class of people needing relief and seeking damages? Am I off base here?

  10. Excellent blog, with Full Tilts inability to come up with 60 million dollars to payout the US player base, How can they spend anything at the WSOP for buy ins, lodging and sponsorship.

    Its not really their money.

  11. I have been proclaiming for years and years that online poker was a corrupt and evil business which basically gave people freedom to cheat and steal. It always got thrown back in my face that I was just a loser or a hater. I haven't had a losing year in live poker for over 15 years, but I never once had a winning year playing online. Hmmmm, I wonder why that is.....I guess I should of been cheating like everyone else.

  12. I absolutely agree 100% with everything you have wrote and I commend you.
    I too am of the opinion that I do not like how some of our poker pro`s have spoken about Phil Ivey. When I heard what several of the poker pro`s had to say with regards phil Ivey`s reason for doing what he did and when he did it... I thought: what would they have done if they had been the pro affected in the same way Phil Ivey has? Secondly, How would they have felt if they had done exactly what Phil Ivey has done and then been spoken about by some of the poker pro`s in the distasteful way that he has been spoken about?
    Futhermore, if the US government had legalised online poker in the first place, would we be even having this conversation??
    Poker is the game that I love and imo it is being given a blackened name...and I don`t like it, not one bit!
    Suzi x

  13. ...Oh and another thing. If Phil Ivey was looking out for himself and no one else as some have stated, why didn`t he play WSOP? He may have won it! He certainly would have cashed even if he didn`t win another bracelet imo.
    So all this "in it for himself" malarky that`s been circulating doesnt make any sense to me whatsoever.
    Suzi x

  14. I vote for Phil Ivey, Poker is a "SPORT."

  15. Well put and I agree but I don't believe a word Nick Rainey says. He's been banned from Full Tilt for quite awhile now because of the ghosting incident and it's probably mostly sour grapes on his part.

  16. Ivey suing for about the amount players are owed. Think if he collects it'll be distributed to pay the players?

  17. For me, the most disturbing thing about the last 6 weeks is the shattering of the myth of the self-policing poker world. We've heard over and over again that there is more honor in this game than in the business world; that most players, when confronted with an ethical dilemma will do the right thing; and that when people do not do the right thing, they will have a pay a tremendous price via the wrath of the poker community and damage to their poker reputation.

    I personally have told players they were flashing hole cards, turned down drunken sure thing prop bets that I knew the other guy couldn't really afford to lose, and returned money when pots I shouldn't have won were pushed to me.

    But when push came to shove at the highest levels of poker, we saw that there's no honor among thieves. For years, Team Full Tilt used their personal credibility to reassure players of the safety of their money, and made millions in the process. This wasn't like some athlete endorsing a goofy product, or even like a bank executive cashing in while the bank goes under. In those contexts there are rules, and we all know them, or should, before playing. In the online poker context, there were no rules, and the one thing guaranteeing the safety of our funds was the reputation of the people standing behind the company.

    Yet since the roof caved in, those same pros have been almost universally silent, taken no action, and suffered no consequences from the community or to their reputation. As far as I'm concerned, each and every Team Full Tilt millionaire is personally responsible, and should be treated as such. If not, the protection and integrity of the poker community mean nothing.

    I have no doubt that Ivey's actions are in his own self-interest, but at least he has said the things that the other so-called "good guys" on
    Team Full Tilt haven't had the courage to say, and at least he has the decency not to show up and play big tournaments with our rake, unlike the others with previously impeccable reputations.

  18. I am gonna take a wild guess that PI has been threatened with physical harm if he does play the WSOP due to tiltwares inability to payout the US players funds immediately following BF.

    Poker lawyer would this cement his case?

  19. @Anon 1:21, pretty interesting, huh? He worked pretty hard for that brand, too (imo).

    @Laoch, gotta love a Cardozo reference =). Sadly, I think your "inevitable" argument is spot on.

    @Anon 3:19, ok.

    @DrPauly, utterly jazzed you read my blog. Thank you!

    @DuggleBogey, I think there are many reasons why he chose to boycott the series and some may have to do with backlash, which is a self-interested motive. But I ain't Ivey and so just wouldn't really know. As for his endorsement of FT and its subsequent failure(s), I'd venture to say that's exactly why he's suing.

    @Anon 3:44, thank you!

    @Anon 4:01, can't really say I'm very well versed in Plaintiffs' side CA work so I really don't know. But it seems to me some enterprising attorney out there could figure a way to make a case for same. Not sure how sound the case would be, but where there's a dollar to be made...

    @Anon 4:22, not really sure, but there's gotta be money somewhere b/c I know those lawyers ain't cheap.

    @Anon 6:18, if you haven't had a losing year in live poker for more than 15 years, you're doing great. Don't start cheating now.

    @Suzi, love you, chica! ;-) I don't like that poker's getting more a black eye, either.

    @Lottotex2, I think of poker as a sport, too.

    @Dixie, thank you! And just to be clear, I wasn't quoting Nick Rainey as any kind of authority. I was merely using him as an example of a pro player cheating.

    @KZ, um...*highly* unlikely.

    @Larry, you're so good (as always), I just made your comment its own post. Thank you!

    @Anon 9:47, nah. But, if true, I guess it could certainly present him with another cause of action. Doubt he'd be fearful of that, though. He seems like such a bad ass.


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