This is the same pair at least partly responsible for fleecing both recreational and pro players out of hundreds of millions of dollars while at the now defunct Full Tilt Poker.
However, it appears there are far worse crimes one can commit against the professional poker playing community. Fraud and deception may break their bankrolls, but words apparently hurt far worse.
Full Tilt: Learn, chat and play with the pros
The 2000 WSOP Main Event champion and former Full Tilt Poker executive Chris Ferguson and two-time WSOP bracelet winner, Full Tilt founder and former board member Howard Lederer both showed up in Las Vegas to play in the 2016 WSOP after a five-year absence.
Both had pretty much stayed out of the public eye since online poker’s Black Friday on April 15, 2011. That’s when the US Department of Justice shut down Full Tilt, PokerStars and Ultimate Bet/Absolute Poker.
At that time, federal authorities filed charges against the sites’ owners for violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, in addition to laws regarding bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling.
The DOJ also filed a civil complaint. It was later amended against Full Tilt specifically, alleging Ferguson, Lederer and other company directors were running a Ponzi scheme. The DOJ alleged Full Tilt’s board paid out hundreds of millions in player deposits to themselves and other Full Tilt owners.
Ferguson denied the allegations through a lawyer. Lederer did a lengthy interview claiming very little knowledge of the online poker site’s financial situation. Both then disappeared from the poker spotlight.
Lederer and Ferguson kind of apologize, return
Ultimately, the case was largely resolved (although criminal indictments for some of the named individuals are still active). Both Ferguson and Lederer eventually settled their civil cases (more here and here).
PokerStars bought Full Tilt and negotiated a plan with the DOJ to pay back the money to its players. By last summer, most of the money had been returned. Just not by Lederer or Ferguson.
Lederer issued a public statement in 2016 apologizing to the poker community for his involvement in the Full Tilt debacle. He said he was sorry for failing to keep player funds on the site segregated. He then returned to playing WSOP events last year.
Unfortunately, he also refused to make any further comment to the press. Ferguson began playing in WSOP events last summer as well. He flatly refused to answer questions or make any public statements on the matter.
Many members of the poker community seemed rather miffed by the pair’s appearance at the 2016 WSOP. However, the response was ultimately limited to a number of toothless negative social media posts.
On Monday, Lederer and Ferguson teamed up with former Full Tilt shareholder and poker pro Andy Bloch to play in the tag team event. This time around the response was pretty much the same. Several teams involved in the tournament took to Twitter to voice their displeasure. None did much of anything else about it.
Sticks and stones may break your bones
It appears it takes much more egregious offenses to get some pro poker players riled up.
Try writing something negative about poker as a profession. Perhaps tell one of the game’s loudest advocates for social change to keep it down a little. Or, attempt offending the delicate sensibilities of a popular pro.
Certain outspoken members the professional poker playing community will circle the wagons. They’ll attack your credibility and your livelihood. They will attempt to drum you out of the same community you’ve helped uplift and promote for the better part of a decade. In fact, they’ll band together against you and give it everything they’ve got.
Rip them off to the tune of $400 million or more and while you might not be welcomed back with open arms, a weak social media flaming is probably the worst of it. Unfortunately, this segment of the poker world appears to be one place where punishments rarely fit crimes and one that reserves its wrath for the easy targets rather than the tougher ones.