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Top 10 questions about PokerStars’ acquisition of Full Tilt Poker
by: Aaron Todd, special to The Social Gambler
The recent acquisition of Full Tilt Poker by PokerStars has the poker world buzzing, and there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. Players who had money locked up on the site are excited about the return of their funds. People who loved the Full Tilt software will get a chance to return to the tables. But there are still a great number of questions that have yet to be answered about the acquisition, and what it means for players.
Here are the top-10 questions about the Full Tilt Poker acquisition that I want answered.
10. How will it affect the global Internet poker market? There’s no doubt that PokerStars has built up tremendous good will in the poker community for taking over Full Tilt and providing funds to pay back players. But what it means for the overall online poker market remains to be seen. Now that the two most established poker brands will be controlled by an ownership and management team that is one of the most trusted in the world, will anyone be able to compete? Will PartyPoker see players flock to Full Tilt and PokerStars once their balances are available to them? Will smaller networks that rely on a shrinking base of U.S. players see their international players disappear? These are questions that won’t be answered until Full Tilt Poker opens up, which is expected sometime this fall.
9. Will PokerStars pursue legal action against Rush Poker clones? Full Tilt Poker was nothing if not innovative. The pioneers of the get-moved-to-a-new-table-instantly-when-you-fold style of poker, Full Tilt Poker had thousands of players who relied on Rush Poker to put in tons of volume. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Well, PokerStars was the first to copy the format, launching Zoom Poker. And others have done the same. Full Tilt officials maintained that they held patents for the product. If that’s true, PokerStars holds all of Full Tilt’s assets, and therefore now holds the patents to the Rush Poker concept. Will PokerStars pursue legal action against online poker rooms that copied the fast-poker variant? And if PokerStars is successful in those efforts, piggy-backing on number 10 on this list, how does it affect the rest of the online poker market?
8. What about Take Two funds? One of the ways Full Tilt was able to draw players in was with its “Take Two” promotion. The site offered up to $25 in bonus cash for players who earned five or more FTP points by playing either on Rush Poker tables or by playing more than one ring game at a time over a period of 10 days. Players who hit the target on five days got $5, while players who hit the target on nine days got $20 more.
Black Friday occurred seven or eight days into a Take Two promotion. At the time, “FTP_Doug” posted in the twoplustwo poker forums that Full Tilt would reimburse all players for the full $25 so long as they had not missed more than one day. But there’s no word on whether that promotional bonus will be reimbursed by PokerStars (for non-U.S. players) or by the Department of Justice (for Americans). My best bet is that Americans won’t see any of the money, and at best it’s a coin flip for “rest-of-world” players.
7. Can players transfer funds between sites? One of the most exciting aspects of the Full Tilt Poker acquisition is the idea that players may be able to transfer funds back and forth between the two platforms. This will be especially useful for players who hit a big tournament score and want to move money around. It can take some time to cash out and deposit money, especially when it has to clear a bank. Having the ability to transfer between sites will allow players to move their money more easily and reduce headaches for a lot of people. It would also allow PokerStars/Full Tilt Poker to hold onto more of the players’ money and avoid having to pay as much to process withdrawals and deposits.
6. What kind of cross promotions will the sites run? PokerStars has its VIP system, which rewards players based on volume of play. Full Tilt had a similar, though not as successful, “Ironman” system. Will PokerStars move its VIP system to the Full Tilt platform? Will players earn VIP points across systems? If you get a bonus on PokerStars, will you be able to play it through on Full Tilt? How linked will the sites be? Or will they be operated completely independently of each other?
5. Who will sign up as a pro on Full Tilt Poker? Full Tilt’s marketing shtick was that it was the place to meet, chat and play with the pros. And they had one of the most impressive cadres of professional poker players backing their software. Phil Ivey, Patrick Antonius, Gus Hansen, Tom Dwan and Jennifer Harman still have a pretty high Q factor. But will the PokerStars management group want to associate the brand with the same pros? Or will they pursue an entirely different tack?
4. What will happen to Lederer and Ferguson? You’ll note that I didn’t include Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson in the list of names above. And for good reason. Both (along with Rafe Furst) have been prohibited from taking part in any business relationship with the newly launched Full Tilt Poker. In fact, they still have pending legal action against them. And it’s hard to see how they could get back into the poker world in the next decade, possibly even two. Don’t get me wrong – this is America and we love a good comeback story better than anyone. If Howard Lederer somehow gets a backer and makes a deep run in the WSOP Main Event years down the road, a lot of people will probably be cheering for him. We’ve given Michael Vick a second chance; I think Lederer and Ferguson will get one too. It just won’t be before 2025.
3. Will there still be rakeback at Full Tilt? One of the main reasons Full Tilt was able to build such a large player pool was the 27 percent rakeback they paid to players who signed up through rakeback sites. If your account originally had rakeback, you definitely will want to know if it will under the new management team. That would also make the site unique from PokerStars, which does not offer rakeback but instead offers a VIP system.
2. Will either be allowed back in a regulated U.S. market? Yes, I know that both PokerStars and Full Tilt admitted no wrongdoing in their settlements with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). And I know that they both have clearance from the DOJ to reenter the American market, should regulation ever occur. The problem is it’s not the DOJ’s decision to make. First, it’s up to the state and federal legislators who are writing bills to regulate online gambling and/or poker. Most of the legislation we’ve seen out of states and the federal government so far has a “bad actors” exclusion. And no, I’m not talking about this kind of bad actor. I mean the “prohibits any company that ever accepted a bet from a U.S. player” type of bad actor clause.
If the regulations state that sites the accepted U.S. bets need not apply, well, PokerStars and Full Tilt are out of luck. And don’t expect giant land-based gaming corporations — or their wallets — to be sitting on the sidelines during the debate on Internet gambling legislation.
1. What will Americans have to do to get paid? Americans are still waiting for guidance from the DOJ in regards to how they will gain access to their funds. There are still some who doubt that the DOJ intends to return funds to players at all. I’m still of the mind that players will have access to their funds, but the burden of proof may be on them. If they don’t have screen shots of their Full Tilt balance, or if they don’t have their results logged somewhere, the average American who is owed less than four figures might decide it’s not worth the time or effort required to get their money back.
As for me, I’ve got about $50 waiting for me (if you count the $25 owed to me in Take Two bonus), and I’ll be doing everything I can to get that money back.