Former Full Tilt Owner Chris Ferguson Returns To WSOP: How Much Do We Care?

June 6, 2016
Former Full Tilt Owner Chris Ferguson Returns To WSOP: How Much Do We Care?

The first week of the 2016 World Series of Poker had its fair share of big stories.

That included Colossus I vs. Colossus II, developments (see below), and grumblings of controversies (Top Up Turbo satellites and Allen Kessler-unapproved structures). But stealing the show was the return of Chris Ferguson to the WSOP for the first time since 2010.

Ferguson wasn’t in a chatty mood, telling PokerNews three times, “I’m just here to play poker,” when they questioned the five-time WSOP bracelet winner about his return.

Ferguson may not have wanted to discuss his return, the poker community certainly did, as social media lit up, as did the 2+2 forums.

Did Ferguson beat Lederer to the punch?

In the  run-up to the WSOP, Howard Lederer issued an apology statement to the poker community. Many in the poker world saw as a preemptive move by Lederer to try to smooth things over and pave the way for a return to the WSOP this year.

But before Lederer even had a chance to show his face at the WSOP, it was Ferguson, the 2000 main event champion and former Full Tilt Poker owner, who turned up at the Rio.

Ferguson and his trademark look — complete with cowboy hat, long hair and beard — showed up for the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship without any foreshadowing and sans apology.

His return seems to have caught the poker world off guard, as the disgraced former Full Tilt owner was treated more as an object of curiosity than a returned exile and object of scorn.

The likely reason for the apathetic response to Ferguson is the poker community’s decision to place the two men in different levels of hell. Neither is in the ninth level with Russ Hamilton, but by and large the poker community sees Lederer as the bigger sinner of the two.

Still, judging by the tepid response Ferguson’s return garnered, Lederer could very well follow suit at some point this summer, and deal with whatever amount of criticism comes his way.

Lederer’s return will definitely be more salacious, considering Ferguson fell off the map following Black Friday, while Lederer (along with former Full Tilt CEO Ray Bitar) tried to do damage control and became the face of the poker world’s anger.  Most notably, there was the cringe-worthy performance of Lederer in his lengthy sit down interview with’s Matthew Parvis. In that chat, “The Professor” turned into the absent-minded professor when trying to recall certain details.

Settlement agreements add to the level of outrage

The government also seemed to believe there was some daylight between the two men in terms of their roles in the FTP debacle.

Ferguson — along with Lederer, Rafe Furst, and Ray Bitar — reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. government in the aftermath of Black Friday. But, despite a lot of similarities, when you contrast the settlement agreements of Lederer and Ferguson there are several notable differences.

  • Lederer’s future involvement in U.S. online poker and gambling was far more restrictive than Ferguson’s.
  • Both men forfeited a substantial amount of funds, but only Lederer paid an additional civil money laundering penalty of $1.25 million.
  • Ferguson was cited in the settlement agreement as having forgave $14 million in dividends owed, which were supposed to go towards player payments.

In the end, the settlement agreements paint the picture that Ferguson and Lederer had different levels of culpability (at least in the eyes of the government) when it comes to their role in the demise of Full Tilt Poker, as well as how they tried to deal with it.

These differences, along with the public comments (or lack thereof) following Black Friday, have led to the court of poker public opinion seemingly being more accepting of Ferguson’s return than Lederer’s.

Of course, it’s been five years, and most Full Tilt players have been made whole at this point. If Lederer returns it won’t be pretty, but it probably won’t be over the top either.

Some final thoughts

Truth be told, I’m pretty ambivalent to either man showing up at the Rio to play in WSOP tournaments at this point.

I’ve moved on from Black Friday; but then again, I didn’t have five- or six-figures stranded in an inaccessible online poker account for five years.

Even before Black Friday, I questioned the safety and security of online poker funds. And while it doesn’t excuse what occurred, what happened at Full Tilt Poker was partly a byproduct of the situation.

That situation was one players helped stoke. U.S. customers wanted to play online poker, and Full Tilt Poker did everything they could to facilitate that, even if it meant cutting corners or engaging in behavior that turned out to be wrong.

We all “knew” what was going on with those overseas checks (especially when they started bouncing with some regularity). However, we chose not to care, in much the same way Full Tilt’s board of directors chose not to poke around too deep into the company’s financial situation.

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