With the close of the Las Vegas leg of the World Series of Poker last week, the WSOP Player of the Year race became a flashpoint for the poker community. While it has created a great deal of controversy over its scoring, the person who emerged on top after all the events were finished in Sin City – former World Champion and Full Tilt pariah Chris Ferguson – seemed to incite another round of outrage. That outrage was simple – should Ferguson, for his sins in the poker community, be able to accept the POY award, let alone play in the WSOP?
Let’s start with the second statement in that question first. As far as playing in a publicly available event, series or even simply a cash game, Ferguson has the right to participate. Short of convictions for offenses such as murder, a person should be allowed to take part in the proceedings in Las Vegas. Hell, even after they might have served their punishment, those who have committed murder might be more accepted than someone who has cheated on the tables, had connections with organized crime or other egregious actions that have landed people in the “Black Book.” Besides, do we really want casinos to oxymoronically be the “morality police?”
Since we’ve established the right to play in the games, then it might be natural to assume that someone should be eligible for the rewards that come with excellent performance. In the case of the WSOP POY, the person leading the standings at the close of the Las Vegas leg would receive a €10,000 buy-in to the WSOP Europe Main Event (roughly a $11,500 prize, with current exchange rates). After the points were calculated from the 71 tournaments that comprised this year’s schedule, Ferguson had emerged as the points leader (898.46), eking out the top slot over Ryan Hughes (876.35) and John Monnette (865.21).
With Ferguson set to receive the rewards for his play this summer (and let’s put it this way – any system where a two-time bracelet winner over the span of the WSOP such as David Bach only gets enough points to be in 70th PLACE needs to be revamped), the outrage from the poker community was adamant. Because of Ferguson’s involvement in the Full Tilt Poker scandal – in which the company did not segregate player funds from business funds (causing the eventual collapse of the company) AND the “Black Friday” actions of fraudulently accepting gaming transactions and billing them as other things such as “office supplies” or “golf equipment” – arguably most people believe that Ferguson should not receive the award or the prizes involved with it. Much of that comes from how Ferguson conducted himself following the actions of “Black Friday.”
When the indictments of April 2011 came down, much of the online poker world scurried to figure out what to do (the one exception? PokerStars, but that’s a discussion for another time). Not only was Full Tilt Poker attempting to save its business, the CEREUS Network rooms of UB.com and Absolute Poker were under siege, too. When the Department of Justice allowed the rooms to open to remit bankrolls to players, only PokerStars stepped up; the others mentioned could not give the players money back because…they didn’t have it.
Issues would get worse for Full Tilt, with Ferguson in a position of knowledge about the company, as 2011 wore on. September 2011 would bring the revocation of the site’s license by gaming authorities and, as a result, the company went under. But it was Ferguson’s lack of concern regarding the shutdown and eventual closure – he didn’t say a word, he just slinked away with millions in his pockets – that riled the senses of those who had been aggrieved. His return last year to the WSOP (alongside Howard Lederer) only rubbed salt in the wounds.
This is the problem for many – Ferguson (whom I once held in quite high esteem) and all the rest HAD to know what they were doing was wrong. If they weren’t knowledgeable about the workings of their company – the one they all joined in to create – then that is mismanagement of the highest order and that includes fraud. That they got away with paying a bit of money (OK, a LOT of money in some cases) and weren’t adequately punished for their transgressions doesn’t sit well with many.
There are people that literally lost their lives over the decisions of these people in particular and Full Tilt Poker as a whole. Some lost tens of thousands of dollars, even after “everyone” was “made whole.” And even for the people who were paid…we lost our belief in the people that created this company “for the players.” We lost our belief in that they were honorable. And we lost our belief in the honor of the game of poker, that you do what’s right, no matter what. Quick question…where do you think the Full Tilt Poker remittance would be if it hadn’t been for PokerStars?
Why are people like Mike Matusow, recent Poker Hall of Fame inductee Phil Ivey, and others who were an alleged part of “Team Full Tilt” given a pass? That’s an outstanding question. But the ones that we know had knowledge of what occurred – Ray Bitar, Lederer, Ferguson, perhaps some others – still have never adequately explained why they did it nor (and especially in Ferguson’s case) offered their mea culpas to a satisfactory point. And that is why people still have a problem with them at the WSOP or any other tournament location and why people are having issues with Ferguson taking anything regarding the POY.
The poker world may be getting itself in a snit over nothing – it isn’t known whether Ferguson has accepted the seat and will travel to King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, come October anyway to participate in the WSOP Europe Main Event. He hasn’t participated in a tournament outside of the WSOP since “Black Friday,” meaning that he does see that he is persona non-grata for the most part in the poker world. The very fact that he might not go to the WSOP Europe is enough that, over the span of those 11 events, another person would pass Ferguson for the championship and make all this hand wringing for naught.