Over the next days and weeks, I hope to be able to provide articles about interviews with those people closest to Full Tilt and the Black Friday situation. Today is the first installment of that process. I recently talked to Andy Bloch, poker pro and shareholder in Tiltware. He was good enough to offer his take on what happened before and after Black Friday.
DF: Andy, thanks for agreeing to speak to me. I know the community still has so many unanswered questions. You have been one of the owners of FTP since the beginning, right?
AB: Partner in Tiltware, yes
DF: Have you ever served as an officer of the company, either a manager or on the Board of Directors before Black Friday?
AB: No, never.
DF: OK, but as an owner, you obviously were aware of things happening around the company. I don’t necessarily mean within the confines on an operational aspect, but the climate of the online poker world in general.
AB: Yes, I suppose.
DF: Were you always of the mind that the operation of FTP in the USA was not illegal?
AB: From what I had seen, yes…from what I heard after that they did…I mean, I never knew.
DF: I’ve heard that over the course of time since UIGEA was enacted, that the owners had discussed the position many times that if there were ever any backlash from the government that FTP was willing to fight because you all believed in your company. Would you say that is accurate?
AB: Some people always wanted to fight and some, probably had they known what could happen to the company, would have always wanted to pull out of the U.S. well before Black Friday. I think if people knew the full extent of the seizures, even forgetting about Black Friday being a possibility, I think people would have said “Hey it’s time to leave the U.S.” I think that had people been given full information, that they probably would have made that decision. I’m just guessing, but from at least June of 2010, and at least by the end of the year, it may not have been a full pullout, it may have been a state by state thing, a circuit by circuit thing, possibly just by looking at what the laws are, based on what the DOJ is doing in different jurisdictions. But I think if people had been aware of that and how much it hurt the company, definitely.
DF: Do you think that the majority of owners, without naming names, were not aware that there were seizures occurring?
AB: I think people were aware that there were seizures, because some of them anyway were public news, but not anywhere near to the extent that what was apparently the inability of the company to recover.
DF: So in the couple of years leading up to BF, there were seizures made by DOJ of money coming to and from FTP from US customers via the payment processors. You were aware of these seizures that were happening?
There were very public, in the poker world, as well as main stream media. I mean, I don’t know this, I am asking, were there not any discussions, at least about the bigger losses, such as Accounts Services (Rennick) and Intabill (Daniel T)? The Intabill theft was more than $ 40 million alone.
AB: Well there was never any discussion amongst everybody, there may well have been Ray talking to individuals about different things, never really giving anybody the full picture of what was happening, always downplaying them.
DF: Well if we are just even talking about Rennick and Tzvetkoff, those were in mainstream media. Are you saying that no one really asked or that the amount told to you when asking was not truthful? And without speaking for others, maybe just your take?
AB: Right. I can’t speak for others but first of all, we didn;t have much input into what was going on anyway, and I am sure that whatever information that Ray had given to other people was not full information anyway.
DF: But even just those few were almost $ 100 million.
AB: But that wasn’t all Full Tilt, right?
DF: Well, yes, I mean Intabill/Daniel T, alone was between $ 42-44M. That’s what he stole just from Full Tilt.
AB: See I never knew what those exact numbers were.
DF: OK, Account Services (Rennick) was probably another $ 30M, we can add up more, but you get the picture.
AB: Well you know those numbers better than I do.
DF: Well many of the seizures were part of the mainstream media, so I suppose there couldn’t really have been lies about those. Did no one ask? Or maybe you can tell me, would any one of you have believed that an extra $ 100M+ cash was just laying around the company that wouldn’t have really made a hit? That it wouldn’t have mattered? Not speaking for anyone else, if I were to tell you that those three seizures alone amounted to $ 100M in 2009,leading into 2010, would you have believed that that was a significant enough amount to have changed things in the company, either let people go, or stop distributions or something like that?
AB: First of all, I don’t think anyone outside of Ray and maybe the CFO knew the full amount and exactly what it cost the company and whether or not the company had a surplus. I mean if people did ask Ray, he probably did not give them the full information.
DF: Did you personally try to find out, did you ask at all?
AB: I probably did ask a few questions, like what about the seizures, and got an answer that probably wasn’t completely truthful, but no, no specific answers and nothing that would have ever led me to believe that they still weren’t covering player balance 100%.
DF: Prior to BF, FTP always made their customers whole when those seizures happened. Over the course of time, if you read the forums and the blogs out there, players were commenting on how hard it was to get money off the site, and that seizures had apparently been taking a toll, were you aware at all of this happening?
AB; Well not to a huge extent really. If I received a call or an email asking me about it, I would just forward it to Howard or Ray or someone. I mean even with those forum comments at the time, no one knew how widespread it was, at least I didn’t. I just didn’t really know what was going on.
DF:Would you say the same about the e-check situation?
AB: Right. I wasn’t really reading 2+2 back then, but after Black Friday, when someone pointed me to those threads that were there about people doing these e-checks and abusing the system and bragging about it, I was surprised. If I had heard about that when it was happening, I would have been really pissed off and I would have wanted some answers.
DF: Ok keeping in mind these seizures happening, and some would say with more frequency, did you assume that something might on the minds of DOJ with respect to coming after FTP? Besides the seizures themselves, in 2010, your largest payment processor, Daniel Tzvetkoff was arrested right here in the USA and although there were not a lot of details available following his arraignment, it was clear that he was eventually out on bail but in the US. Just knowing that couldn’t have been good.
AB: At the time, I didn’t really know what to make of it, or how it would affect Full Tilt or PokerStars or anyone or if there was any possibility of that leading into some larger case against the industry.
DF: Do you know if SDNY was in contact with anyone at FTP in that year prior to Black Friday to try to come to some arrangement? For instance, leaving the US market?
DF: So in 2010, you were not aware of any investigations or any discussions that may have been taking place between FTP and SDNY?
AB: No, not at all.
DF: Now, of course, you do know that there were some talks going on then though, right?
DF: Where were you on BF and how did you learn?
AB: I was at Coachella! A few phone calls happened, but I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to for almost a week, until I heard anything official. I had already planned to go to Amsterdam at the end of April, and once I got there, I just decided to go to Dublin and see what I could do, provide some support, and get some knowledge for myself.
DF: Is this when you learned the financial position of the company?
AB: Yes, I got some of that info just as I was boarding the plan to Amsterdam. That’s when I was first made aware of the seriousness of the financial situation.
DF: Did Ray actually call you and tell you that, or was there some sort of chain line of calls within the membership, or one big call to everyone?
AB: There was one big call eventually, but that was later. I received a message from Howard when I was heading to Amsterdam that I should stay available for calls, whether it was for feedback or votes or whatever. I literally got the full briefing as my plane was taking off.
DF: And this was when you learned really, that there was no money in the coffers?
AB: Yes, and that they were talking with a group about maybe selling the company or getting investors and selling off most of the company and there were conflicting reports then. We had a deal, then we didn’t, then we did, and didn’t again.
DF: And this was in late April 2011?
AB: Yes this was in late April, and I arrived in Dublin about April 30.
DF: And were you given free rein to look at the books then?
AB: I don’t know about free rein but I was shown at least some of the same information that was being shared with the people that were doing their due diligence to purchase or invest in the company. The picture at that time was pretty bleak.
DF: Were you involved at all, with the discussions with potential investors?
AB: With some of them I was. Discussions with some of them had ended already by the time I got to Dublin. This would have been in April and May. I believe I stayed in Dublin about 2 weeks.I think it was helpful to have another body there. I think it was helpful to have someone there that wasn’t on the BOD watching what was going on, and just having someone else for the investors to talk to.
DF: Were you one of the people in discussions with AGCC?
AB: No, I wasn’t.
DF: So, just to be clear, by this time, you already knew that the company virtually had no money. Certainly by the end of May, there was almost nothing left. Right?
AB: Well there wasn’t “nothing: left. There were certain amounts of money, there were tens of millions that had been “paused”, but not actually frozen by the DOJ.
DF: But you are talking now about the “voluntarily” frozen accounts in foreign banks?
AB: Yes. I think the total amount was ~ $ 60m, some of which was unfrozen pretty quickly and some of which took months to be freed. So there was that money and there were discussions, maybe an email, about not having money, they were not including that money. In other words, ” we don’t have any money but there is $ 20 million here, if we get that unfrozen we can have that..
DF: Yes, I understand. You are talking about the accounts in Ireland, Switzerland and Luxembourg, that were frozen by the banks themselves in case the DOJ wanted those funds, too, right? But some of those were unfrozen right away. The DOJ did cooperate with those banks to agree to release those funds, right?
AB: Yes in some cases the DOJ got involved, in others, we had to handle it ourselves.
DF: But more than half of that money was released early, probably in May, correct?
DF: And correct me if I am wrong, that money was used for expenses that needed to be paid to keep the company functioning, whether it was salaries, or operational costs, like the servers and that kind of expense? Was that money sent out to players for withdrawals?
AB: I think it was a combination. I think if the entire $ 60 million had been immediately available, that more of it would have been used to pay players. I think if more of that money had been available, I think FTP would have used it to start paying back U.S. players, at least in part, in some small structured fashion.
DF: Was this a discussion for the members at the time? Were there talks about paying people a little at a time?
AB: Yes, there were always discussions about how and when we could begin to pay the U.S. players. Before Phil Ivey’s lawsuit, there was some plan apparently of how to start paying out players. I found this out later. At least a proposal that was on the table, but when he filed that lawsuit, there was a big spike in the withdrawals from “rest of world”, and that spike really ate up what was available to be paying people out.So there was a plan to start paying, to take whatever cash was available to to start paying people out. I don’t know exactly the procedure that would have been followed, but maybe starting with the smaller balances first, but once that lawsuit hit, and they saw the response to that, which was a huge spike of more than $ 10 million in withdrawals, that plan was abandoned. So if all that money had been available and Phil Ivey had not filed that lawsuit, there probably would have been $ 10-20 million that could have gone right away to the U.S. players, maybe to pay up to $ 500 balances. It’s not really clear the exact procedure because we never got that far but from the beginning they had been talking about paying out to players and how to do that.
DF: And this would have been with an outside infusion of cash or a bridge loan or investor money too?
AB: Even without that, they were talking about a plan to start paying players.
DF: Was there any plan for a cash call from the members?
AB: Yes there was talk about that too. The biggest problem at the time with a cash call was that some of the owners didn’t have the cash for a variety of reasons. A lot of people had their money tied up in real estate for example and had lost a lot in real estate as well. Unfortunately, not everyone is like Chris Ferguson who doesn’t spend a lot of money. If everyone had been, there would have been a cash call, owners would have put in $ 100 million and there wouldn’t have been a problem.
DF: Well, I certainly agree that the economy tanked in the years leading up to BF. Lots of people lost money in real estate and other investments too. But we are talking about $ 10M a month that came out of the company to the owners. Certainly by May 1, those April 1 distributions wouldn’t have disappeared completely, or the March or February or even January ones, so 3, 4, or 5 months worth of distributions could have made a huge difference, a big chunk of payments to players.
AB: Right, there were a lot of discussions. A lot of people that would pledge money. Many people were trying to make that happen. Others were resisting it, others just didn’t have it, and it got complicated, because there were some that absolutely could not do it, either because they had no money or they were unwilling. It was hard to get anyone to send a check in.
DF: Would the people that were willing, would they eventually not do so because others refused to?
AB: That was part of it. Another reason given was that there was no guarantee that the money that people wanted to put in would not be wasted. We tried to get people to send money it, the people that owed the company money. Out of all of those, I think the only person that did was Howard.
DF: I think someone else did too, albeit not a huge amount.
AB: Yes, someone else may have too, but for example, Phil Ivey claimed that some of his money was sent it, but it never reached FTP.
DF: Just for the record, you are not on the list of people that owed the company money on Black Friday, right?
AB: No, I did not owe the company any money.
DF: So the people on the list, at least the owners that were included on that list of people that owed money to FTP, were asked to pay it back by the membership, and they did not, is that right?
AB: Yes, everyone was asked, whether they were an owner or not, they were asked to pay it. And there were some problems with that. Leverage of course is a huge problem, and some people just didn’t have the money available, or some figured that if they never pay the company back and the company goes under, they get to escape from ever having to pay. It still seems like some of them may have gotten away with that.
DF: If we go back to the cash call for a minute, you mentioned that aside from the owners that said they didn’t have the money to send in, that others just didn’t want to. Can you talk more about that?
AB: Well some said “I don’t want to send money in with Ray as CEO” or “I don’t want to send money in with the current conditions of the company in flux”. I think that may have been a justification for some. I think even if things had been different, that some of them may have found other excuses for not sending it in, and unfortunately, I think there were plenty of excuses for people not to send money in.If everyone had been able to send in the exact same percentage of money, it would have been easy. Nothing would have been unfair then, but unfortunately, that was impossible. How do you go and give people the right incentive to send in the money when others won’t? There were a lot of discussions about that.
DF: Well the incentive would have been to save the company.
AB: Yes the incentive to save the company was huge but the risk was high and how do you send in money when people with a much higher percentage don’t send in anything?
DF: Well there would have had to be some dilution of shares in the company, right?
AB: Yes, there were discussions on this. There were also talks of whether money coming in could be a loan of some sort, but even more shares, or a loan, could end up being worth nothing if the company didn’t survive. Part of the discussions with some of the investors would have been am opportunity for some of the members to invest alongside. Even then it was hard to get people to commit to any significant amount. We tried considering a total alongside investment of $ 10-20 million, but there was no way to know if that number is real or not, because it never happened. Some of that would have had to have been liquidation of some personal assets like real estate and that also became difficult. And this didn’t apply to everyone because some people were just really bad with money and didn’t have any cash or even assets to liquidate.
DF: It was even a condition on one or two of the potential investor proposals, either to have cash pledged alongside, or at least collateral pledged by owners, right?
AB: Yes, but it was impossible to get the money or assets pledged at that time.
DF: And those investors at that time, whether it was in forms of loans or buying a percentage of the company..that money was to be used to repay the players, right?
AB: Yes, probably 75% of it would have gone to pay the players immediately and the rest to pay outstanding invoices and things like that.
DF: OK since you mentioned Ivey’s lawsuit, which came in early June, also in early June, I am told there was an attempt by the majority of owners of the company to unseat the current BOD and to replace Ray Bitar as CEO, isn’t that correct?
DF: And you were actually one of the owners that agreed to assume a BOD position after this transition took place, right?
AB: Yes, reluctantly after being misled.
DF: You were misled?
DF: Can you explain?
AB: Well first, I wasn’t at the meetings where it was decided that this is the route they wanted to take. I wasn’t invited. Then I got a phone call after the second meeting, saying whether or not I accepted a position on the new board, that they claimed to have enough votes to make it happen anyway. I think it was probably a bad decision for me to join in with that. I think the basic idea of getting rid of Ray would have been good if we had found a good replacement for him, and that means a replacement in all his positions, as licensee, as CEO of Pocket Kings, etc., not just as a board member on Tiltware, but all these other positions that were more important. Replacing him, we needed someone who knew everything about the company. Someone having relationships with the employees, and someone that was willing to put 100% of their life on hold for the next X number of months until this was resolved. We didn’t know at the time whether it would take only 3 weeks to have everything done or six months to a year to get it completed.
DF: The information that I had was that there would be a new Board and there would be an interim CEO until some new CEO from outside the company would eventually have been hired to come in and with the help of the BOD of course, get things moving again., right?
AB: Yes, but there was no real plan how to do that. There was always the plan, from the beginning, that as soon as the company was sold, or that investors were in place, that Ray would be out as CEO. That was never in question. New investors would obviously have chosen their own CEO.
DF: So even a smaller investment though, from someone or some entity that was not buying the whole company, a new CEO would have been in the cards as well?
AB: Yes, Ray still had to deal with the charges against him personally. He would have resigned and we would have then found a new CEO and it would have been easier then. It would have been very difficult to get a new CEO from outside in the position the company was in then without an investor and it would have cost a lot of money that we didn’t have. There were so many things that we didn’t expect, like Ivey’s lawsuit, and the backlog of cashouts and the infusion of cash was the first and most important thing. That is what mattered most. And that is the first thing an outside CEO would have tried to do too. So the transition of a new board and a new CEO was really in the opposite order of when things should have happened. The company needed cash in order to start paying back U.S. players.Had any investor said that the board had to go or that Ray had to go in order to get the cash investment, it would have happened, an instant thing.Ray himself would have stepped down. But no investor ever insisted on that prior to a deal.
DF: That transition never took place though, correct? I heard that although there was a majority of over 50%, that you actually changed your vote the day prior to the final transition? So you actually did think then that it was a better idea for the same board to stay in place and for Ray to remain as CEO during the negotiations?
AB: Phil Gordon went to Dublin, I went, and Phil Ivey showed up a couple of days later to be part of this new board. Phil Gordon went back to the U.S. for some personal event in Las Vegas, Ivey was in Dublin, but he was very lackadaisical, he would show up late in the afternoons. And this is a crucial time.Investors were in Dublin and it didn’t look very good at all. At that point, I didn’t feel comfortable agreeing to be on the board anymore. No one really jumped in to replace me either. I also didn’t feel comfortable with the other board members either, neither of the Phil’s, well maybe Phil Gordon, but he became very confrontational. Our main concern should have been to find money. I am not sure that that was Phil Gordon’s main focus. I don’t know exactly, I thought maybe Phil Gordon was there to get evidence on Ray or something. I don’t know really. I felt as if I didn’t have to be the DOJ, the DOJ was going to get all the evidence they needed. the important thing to me was just to be raising the money to repay the players. So yes, I changed my mind, and I thought it best to delay the transition a bit. There were a couple of investor groups that were pretty close to having a least a chance of success.
DF: This was at the same time that Phil Ivey’s investor connection came into the picture, is that right?
AB: Yes, this is when he came to Dublin I believe.
DF: Are you of the opinion that having that investor in Dublin, and entertaining any offers from him, were the real reason for Phil Ivey’s lawsuit, as many have suggested?
AB: Ivey’s lawsuit really makes no sense really. I don’t know. Maybe he had some special agreement or something, but he had absolutely no valid legal basis for the lawsuit, and his press release, about how it was for the players, was completely bogus. The lawsuit said nothing about that. The timing, it seemed like it was an attempt to hurt the company, and to hurt the deals that were in the works and to put pressure on the company to go and “talk to his guy”. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe Ivey was just mad that he wasn’t getting his way. It’s pretty ridiculous for a shareholder that owes the company millions of dollars to be suing the company for more and to try to get out of his contract. All of that made no sense.
DF: I had heard that he actually tried to borrow more money from the company right before BF. Many millions, is that right?
AB: I don’t know what he did do or tried to do. I think he did and then ending up borrowing it elsewhere or something.
DF: OK, so not only did he owe the company millions, but he was looking for millions more immediately before BF, yes?
DF: So at the time Ivey’s lawsuit was still in place, and “his” investor was doing due diligence, and up until the lawsuit was dropped on June 30, did Ivey ever agree to pay his outstanding loans?
AB: Yes, he always admitted he owed the money. He told us that he had someone who owed him money send in $ 500K at some point, but, as far as I know, that never arrived. Perhaps that’s what his guy told him, that the money was sent, but it never arrived. As for the rest of what he owed, he said he didn’t have it at the time.
DF: So that transition of the BOD never took place.
AB: Right. One issue was that all the licenses were in Ray’s name and whoever took over would have had to apply for those licenses and a whole host of things that had to happen. Much of it was just legal steps to follow, but they all take time and money, and no one was really willing to be that “licensee”, the name that was on the license.
DF: You mean the name on the license with AGCC?
AB: AGCC and others. I mean we didn’t really understand what removing Ray from all these licenses would entail. The transition would have taken time for sure. We don’t know if the AGCC would still have suspended the license if Ray’s name had been removed, but the reasons they gave for the suspension were not about just Ray, but because the company didn’t have the money and that they claimed they were misled about what money the company had.
So you were part of these negotiations with investors, which really began shortly after BF. You were actually in Dublin. Did you actually see the books that showed the cash equivalents of prior seizures and uncollected echecks?
AB: I saw some printouts
DF: Did you know that these printouts included the cash equivalents of seizures that had already happened that there was no chance of ever recouping, from years prior?
AB: No, I never saw any breakdown, just printouts that showed our position after BF. I still dont know the answer as to how those seizures may have been reported prior to Black Friday. I don’t know why the AGCC didn’t know about the seizures or what they did or didn’t know. The documents that I saw, I guess created by the financial people, were the same documents that were given to the potential investors. There was nothing that I saw on any printouts about such a big number of ACH problems either. In the end, the only number that I heard about was just what was left in people’s account balances, that could be subtracted.
DF: Right, and that was only about $ 9-10 million.
DF: OK, so if you are talking to investors, many investors are only being asked for $ 100-150M in May and June, is that right?
DF: And by that time, money that had been unfrozen, was partly gone already, either paid to players or expenses?
AB: Yes, there may have been at least $ 20M we were trying to free up in June.
DF: But since this was already after you went to Dublin and saw the books, and you knew that the company owed over $ 350M just to cover player account balances,and you are only trying to get $ 100-150M from investors, which would be used to repay US players, and even if you collect the $ 20 plus million we talked about, tell me please how you can justify staying open to rest of world, so that they can deposit and play on the site, knowing that, even with those cash infusions, that there is not enough to cover the player balances?
AB: I think it was a matter of what they thought the regulator would require them to have. And they thought that that was going to be enough I guess, to satisfy the AGCC. On a temporary basis.
DF: Were you told that the AGCC said that?
AB: Probably not exactly that, but basically, yes. Initially I think they thought they had to have $ 300M. Then later on they realized that the AGCC would have let them continue operating, at least temporarily, on half of that. But this was before the end of June. And maybe the AGCC did say that, until they went and redid their audit.
DF: So from BF until June 29, the site was open to rest of world, and they were hitting the withdrawal button too, but not as badly as they could have. There were still deposits coming in and there was a drop of millions of dollars weekly. So was the money being generated supposed to build up the coffers to repay US players? Or what was supposed to be happening with the “profit” that ROW was generating for those months?
AB: Clearly it would have been better to be able to get $ 300M to cover all the player balances right away. But $ 100-150M would have been enough to pay back US players and enough to have the excess of that pay withdrawals to ROW players as needed. But you are right, I think the company should have had 100%. If you look at other examples, the banking industry for example, and I know Full Tilt was not a bank, but they never have 100% of deposits on hand.
DF: Right. There is also the FDIC who insures depositors money, which helps us out there.If that bank fails, I am not losing my money, assuming I am within the deposit limits in each account. I am not going to lose my money.
AB: Yes, but businesses all the time have liabilities that are more than their cash on hand. Look at Harrah’s or Caesars for example. They owe much more than cash on hand.
DF: Right, but as a public company, those numbers are out there, and at any given time, there is a mechanism in place for every chip on the floor at Caesars to be turned into cash.
AB: Yes, but there are also players money on deposit. I don’t know what the rules are in Nevada, about whether or not Caesars has to keep that on hand. There are a lot of questions about that. However, If the company is advertising that, that they should have it. Especially with the legal uncertainties in the U.S., FTP should have been protecting players from the US government, and the worldwide players from the US government too.
DF: And a way to do that would have been to have segregated and protected accounts,right?
AB: Right, but it’s still unclear, because we don’t know that the government wouldn’t have seized those accounts too. Technically no matter what money they take is player funds. It would be impossible to have a separate bank account for every individual player, then every day you transfer from that account to another player.
DF: Right but there would have to be some master escrow accounts to accommodate the process.
AB: We still don’t know what accounts they may have seized even if they were labeled as player accounts.
DF: Well, you are right, but they did not, by all reports seize any player account money that was tied up on PokerStars, except what was in the hands of the processors at the time.
AB: They didn’t know Stars banking information. PokerStars wasn’t run by an American. They didn’t have to file FBAR‘s to disclose where their money was. So the US government didn’t even know where those accounts were. FTP did file those reports, so they knew where our accounts were.
DF: But all accounts that were in transit to the US, via payment processors, PokerStars had those same issues.
AB: Yes, but not Isai’s personal accounts. He didn’t have to file those FBAR’s, so the government never knew where those accounts were.
DF: Right, but those personal accounts would not have been frozen with respect to the civil complaint, nor would those contain customer funds. And the same with Ray’s personal accounts.
AB: Yes, but Ray, as having control over these company accounts, had to report where they were, that’s how the government knew about them.
DF: Right, but even knowing where the funds were, outside the U.S. for Full Tilt, there is not a lot of evidence that the DOJ filed many, if any, MLATs with these banks to actually take control of the foreign funds of the company. Which is almost a moot point because there was not enough money to pay players enough.
DF: Back on track, the plan was always to use the ROW drop to keep withdrawals going and to build the company up again?
AB: Yes, if it were easy to get $ 300 M instead of $ 100, we would have done that. But this was the best solution we had at the time to work with.
DF: So someone from AGCC or someone on behalf of AGCC advised you that half the amount would be enough to operate with?
AB: Well yes, in talks with the AGCC, we originally thought we needed the whole $ 300M or so, in April. Then in May, after these discussions, it was decided they could do it with $ 150M.
DF: OK, but you personally were not part of those discussions, correct?
AB: No. I heard some of them though. And obviously we would have been more comfortable being able to raise $ 300M, but in the end, it was more important to have $ 150M than to have zero.
DF: Well, sadly we never even got the $ 150million.
AB: Right, then there was a point, they said we only needed $ 40M, that would be enough to help, then maybe in a month we can get the rest and close a deal for $ 150M.
DF: When you say “they” said we only need $ 40M, do you mean the BOD or AGCC?
AB: The Board. That’s what they said we needed to pay bills and the backlog of player withdrawals until we could raise more. And maybe that would have included $ 10-20M to start paying back US players too. And this bridge loan could have lasted a month or so to complete a bigger deal.
DF: And sadly that never happened either. Because then you entered exclusivity with Ivey’s investor and the license was suspended, right?
AB: Yes. You were talking about the BOD takeover, the transition. There was also a new plan in place at the end of June, a new transition plan. We called it Transition 2.0 in fact. And there was going to be a new board, it wasn’t firm yet who would serve on it, but people that would represent similar interests of the current BOD, but not those same people, and Howard would step in to be more heavily involved, back in Dublin. We had this agreement.
DF: But Transition 2.0 was supposed to happen post deal though, correct?
AB: No. This would be before the deal. For example, Phil Gordon didn’t want to be on the board if Ray was still involved so, we were trying to make that work. And this was the end of June. It was supposed to happen in the next couple of weeks. Then the AGCC pulled the license, and I never heard another word about that transition. The people that were pushing for it disappeared. They didn’t want to go through with it. So those people that were pushing for the transition, when the AGCC pulled the license, those people disappeared. That was a time when the arguments for keeping Ray on were no longer valid. The company didn’t need the license, well we needed it, but it was going to be month’s before we got it back, so there was time to replace Ray. It would have been easy at that point to take over. But nobody wanted to do it.
DF: Well it’s a bit of a different story when the company isn’t operational, right? There is no income anymore.
AB: Of course it’s different, but if people were willing to take over the board, it shouldn’t have changed their decisions at all. They just got afraid and maybe thought about giving up at that point.
DF: And Ray still would have stepped down at that time?
AB: I don’t think he would have had a choice. After that, I never got an email, a phone call that said, we have to get rid of Ray now. People blamed it for not getting rid of Ray before, but then they disappeared, they didn’t want to run the company. I don’t know what happened to them at that point.
DF: Once the license was suspended, the potential investor pool dried up?
AB: Somewhat yes. There were still people talking but we needed to make sure that if we were giving up 100% of the company that players were all getting repaid, that was the important thing. The biggest uncertainty at the time was how much the fine to the US government would have been. That was pretty much what held up every deal. We discussed it, we just had a lot of guesses, they started out asking for $ 1 billion. We knew that was b.s, but was the right number $ 300M? 100? 50? We were never able to pin that down. Investors wanted to know. No one wanted to buy the company then negotiate later with DOJ. If the DOJ had been more willing to negotiate, it would have been easier. I think the DOJ could have gotten a better deal if they had been more willing to negotiate then. It was next to impossible at that time to do a deal because of that uncertainty.
DF: Were you in favor of the GBT deal?
AB: I was in favor of that deal over no deal.And the big question was how they would pay back the ROW players. I was in favor if the players had been “made whole”. But their version of “make whole” is like the french definition of “guarantee”. The term “made whole” was always in there, but I couldn’t imagine that what we know now, is what they meant by that term. Nobody knows what would have happened, had he actually taken over. There would have been feedback. Players would have torn him apart.
DF: It doesn’t matter, he could have closed the company at any time.
AB: Yes, he could have closed the company, sold it, licensed the software out, and he probably had plans for that.
DF: Obviously you must be in favor of the PokerStars deal?
AB: I think Stars will profit from this a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple of years, FTP itself is worth more than the entire amount that PokerStars paid.
DF: In the end, the important thing is of course that the players are all repaid their balances. Luckily for the community, PokerStars, while trying to come to agreement on their own civil case, found a way to make that happen, and the community will always be grateful for that.
DF: Andy, I know that hindsight is always 20-20, but if you had it to do all over again, what would you have done differently?
AB: I would have been more involved, and made sure there is somebody that was making sure that Ray was doing his job and not making ridiculous risky decisions that put everything in jeopardy. I think Howard would probably say the same thing. When he left Dublin in 2008… you would have thought that the CFO would have been the person looking after the financial aspects of it, and he should have been raising these flags with the board. That’s what their job is.
That’s why you have a CFO that isn’t also the CEO. It’s always two separate people, because someone has to be looking at the financials. And apparently, that didn’t happen. If I knew there could be an issue like this, I would have said, let’s all take six month stints working in Dublin.
If I ever thought something like this could have happened, I would have volunteered. People were always afraid that Ray was stealing from the company somehow, and that actually made the situation worse because that made Ray afraid to let members know what the true state of the company was, because he knew there was some animosity to him. But the people that were most vocal about that, were the same ones asking why distributions weren’t getting higher. This was as late as 2010/early 2011. Saying “how can we trust Ray, how is it that distributions haven’t increased?”
Really, if you think the distribution amount was correct when it started, then you would think after 3 years it would have gone up. So why didn’t they go up? Something must be wrong. But instead, no one ever called his bluff, if it was a bluff…Ray always said, the books are open, if you want to come to Dublin and look at the books, come over, you can check things out for yourself. No one ever took him up on that.
DF: So your personal intentions now are to just continue playing poker?
AB: Yes, and I am working on other non-poker related things too. I haven’t played much, other than the WSOP.
DF: Yes, congratulations on your bracelet.
DF: Thanks so very much for all of your time and thanks for speaking about everything.