FullTilt Poker & Others Indicted, MMA Sponsorship Status, & UFC’s Involvement

April 15, 2011

MMAJunkie broke the news that FullTiltPoker.com, PokerStars.com, and AbsolutePoker.com were seized today by the FBI and indicted for bank fraud, illegal gambling, and money laundering.

The implication of these charges could have a great impact on MMA, as FullTiltPoker.com (among other poker sites) invest a great deal of money into sponsoring MMA promotions  such as the UFC and Strikeforce,  as well as individual fighters.

Sam Spira, owner of Xtreme Couture management said the following:

“This is a disturbing development,” Spira told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “Full Tilt was one of the remaining pro-fighter sponsors that has strongly supported MMA over the past few years. The importance of the ongoing interplay between supporters and fans of poker and supporters and fans of MMA cannot be underestimated.”

Ken Pavia of MMA Agents gave some input as to what the poker companies are going through right now:

“The online poker companies don’t have a complete handle on it at this time, but they’re doing their due diligence to find out what the full impact is,” Pavia said. “In the short-term, it will severely impact fighters’ sponsor revenue, which traditionally matched their show pay for our televised clients. I would venture to say the poker industry is equal to apparel industry as the No. 1 sponsor of fighters outside the UFC.”

Jene Gene of Magnetic MMA points out that the “.net” versions of the poker sites are the ones sponsoring the promotions and fighters, and that they are compliant since they are for educational and entertainment purposes, not for gambling (FullTiltPoker.net is still functional).  As for Zuffa’s newly acquired MMA promotion Strikeforce, which FullTiltPoker is a major sponsor, they told MMAJunkie that  they are “looking into the situation specifically how it relates to our deal”, and would not comment any further.


Payout Perspective:

ESPN goes into more details regarding the charges on the poker companies:

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney announced the indictments of those involved with the online poker sites as well as those who were responsible for the financial transactions. The 11 defendants are Isai Scheinberg and Paul Tate (PokerStars), Raymond Bitar and Nelson Burtnick (Full Tilt Poker), Scott Tom and Brent Beckley (Absolute Poker) and Ryan Lang, Ira Rubin, Bradley Franzen, Chad Elie and John Campos (involved with payment processors).

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in the indictment: “As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits.

The companies are all based overseas. The indictment sought $3 billion in money laundering penalties and forfeiture from the defendants.

As for the penalties the companies are facing:

The charges are conspiracy to violate Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), violation of UIGEA, operation of illegal gambling business, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy . Maximum penalties from these charges range from five years in prison and a $250,000 fine to 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine (or twice the gross gain or loss).

“These defendants, knowing full well that their business with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck,” said Janice Fedarcyk, FBI assistant director-in-charge. “They lied to banks about the true nature of their business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they could continue their scheme, and they lost.”

Zach Arnold of FightOpinion.com points out the potential severity for the MMA landscape:

This is enormous news. Full Tilt is a Strikeforce sponsor and they also recently made a deal with the Fertittas to try to work on getting legalized gambling in the states. (Harry Reid and others in Congress were on the same wavelength.) The huge irony — this same prosecutor is one that Dana White thanked in fighting piracy of UFC footage.

When discussing this story, you simply can’t avoid the politics of it. The political climate was growing in the US Congress to work out legislation for online gambling in the States. Harry Reid, who Zuffa management helped out politically in his 2010 re-election campaign, was receptive to the idea of legalization. Several other key players, like Barney Frank, were also keen on the idea. After all, legalize-and-tax made perfect sense. The political climate became so positive that the Las Vegas casino power players like Steve Wynn and the Fertittas got involved in deals with companies like Full Tilt Poker.

Arnold points out the irony involving the prosecutor in this case, which is the same who Dana White publicly thanked in being aggressive in anti-piracy efforts relating to copyright issues with Zuffa property.

Another interesting point to note is that due to the charges, Forbes reports that Steve Wynn has cut ties with PokerStars, one of the poker sites indicted, after announing to team up with the company only a few weeks ago.  The UFC and the Fertittas are in the same boat, as  Full Tilt Poker and  Fertitta Interactive just announced an online poker deal just weeks ago and the UFC was working on promotional deals with FullTiltPoker for upcoming events and would further it’s involvement if the online gambling bill was ever passed.  Strikeforce has expanded their promotional dealings with FullTiltPoker since they were acquired by Zuffa as well. The Las Vegas Review-Journal has the story behind Fertitta Interactive and FullTilt:

Online gaming giant FullTilt Poker and Fertitta Interactive, which is co-owned by the family that founded Station Casinos, have struck a partnership to operate an Internet poker website if the activity gains federal approval.

The agreement covers only potential federal legislation for Internet poker, said Tom Breitling, who co-owns Fertitta Interactive with brothers Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta and his longtime business partner Tim Poster.

“We believe that a federal law for online poker is the way to go,” Breitling said. “We do believe that a federal online poker bill would be good for Nevada. Nevada is a leader in gaming regulation, and we need the thousands of high-paying high tech jobs and the millions in tax revenues associated with online poker.”

The political and gambling ties don’t stop there for the Fertittas, who own Station Casinos and backed up and openly campaigned for Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who is now trying to legalize online poker, a move that could make UFC and Station Casino owners a good amount of money. ESPN also ran with a story titled “UFC Pikcing Political Sides”, stating that UFC’s Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, and Dana White were openly campaigning and swaying the UFC fanbse to become supporters of Reid.

The Wall Street Journal reports on Reid and the gambling bill:

Mr. Reid, who has opposed online gambling in the past, is holding his cards close to his vest regarding plans to move forward with the legislation. Passing such a measure is highly uncertain as the heated session winds down, given the sensitive nature of the subject.

Previous attempts at online-gambling legislation haven’t moved forward, but casino interests believe that given Mr. Reid’s powerful position atop the Senate, he might be able to push the poker measure into another bill, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The legislation would overturn a bill passed in 2006 that bans financial institutions from processing online-gambling transactions. That led publicly traded companies to pull out from operating online sites in the U.S. In their place, offshore sites have gathered an estimated 10 million U.S. poker players, according to the Poker Players Alliance.

According to the draft of the bill reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Reid’s office is considering language that would allow only existing casinos, horse tracks and slot-machine makers to operate online poker websites for the first two years after the bill passes, which could limit the ability of other companies to enter the market.

Back in October of 2010, BloodyElbow’s Luke Thomas wrote a piece titled “UFC Tries to Help Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Deepens Political Involvement”, which delves deeper into UFC’s political involvement regarding the legalization of MMA, legalizing online poker, fighting internet piracy, and their ability to make and use political allies to accomplish future goals and further expand their bottom line.

8 Responses to “FullTilt Poker & Others Indicted, MMA Sponsorship Status, & UFC’s Involvement”

  1. rob on April 16th, 2011 4:11 AM

    Darn, where am I going to get my online poker fix?

  2. Will demise of online poker have negative financial implications for UFC? - Sherdog Mixed Martial Arts Forums on April 16th, 2011 11:43 AM

    […] shutdowns could have severe negative financial implications for fighters and maybe even the UFC. FullTilt Poker & Others Indicted, MMA Sponsorship Status, & UFC’s Involvement : MMAPay… I wouldn't be surprised to see the government come after MMA directly next. It seems like the U.S. […]

  3. Diego on April 16th, 2011 1:33 PM

    Stupid politicians with too much time on their hands. Make it legal and tax it instead of making it illegal and have it all move offshore.

  4. Jose Mendoza on April 16th, 2011 11:10 PM

    Great read here to go along with this story:

    Meet The Boy Genius Who Just Took Down The Online Poker Industry

  5. Jose Mendoza on April 18th, 2011 1:57 PM

    Updates from Darren Rovell:

    “The UFC had a huge new sponsorship deal on the table with Full Tilt that will now go out the window with the feds bust.”


  6. jv on April 26th, 2011 12:32 PM

    Neteller who does back end transactions for the gambling sites went through the same thing a number of years ago. They were charged with laundering 9 billion dollars. The owners were arrested and funds seized.

    A pile of money was paid to the government, all charges were dropped and they went on their way. It was a pure shake down by the government.

    The same think is likely to happen here as well.

  7. Full Tilt Poker and government reach agreement | Les secrets de l'aquaponie on July 31st, 2014 1:43 AM

    […] this past weekend, MMAPayout has been providing an in-depth look at the recent indictment against major online poker sites, including Full Tilt Poker (“FTP”), and what it means […]

  8. pokerv88.com on May 17th, 2016 12:21 PM

    Very good write-up. I certainly love this site. Thanks!

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