More than five years after the collapse of Full Tilt Poker, and the resulting financial fiasco which led to millions of dollars in player funds being frozen for several years, two of the most prominent faces associated with the scandal recently resurfaced at the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
Former Full Tilt Poker founding member Howard Lederer and former FTP Director Chris “Jesus” Ferguson both made their way to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada to compete in their first live poker events since “Black Friday” rocked the industry on April 15, 2011.
Lederer, for his part, posted a public letter to Daniel Negreanu’s FullContactPoker blog shortly before the 2016 WSOP commenced, apologizing for his role in Full Tilt Poker’s disastrous decision to freely spend player funds during the height of the poker boom. The letter directly addresses the concerns held by many rank and file poker pros, many of whom hold Lederer responsible for mismanaging Full Tilt Poker and spending player funds on personal expenses:
“I am writing to apologize to everyone in the poker community, especially to all the players who had money on Full Tilt Poker on April 15, 2011. When Full Tilt Poker closed in 2011, there was a shortfall in funds, a distressed sale to recover those funds, and a long delay in repaying players. Throughout this period, there was little explanation for the delay, and no apology. Players felt lied to. They trusted the site, and they trusted me, and I didn’t live up to that trust.
I take full responsibility for Full Tilt’s failure to protect player deposits leading up to Black Friday. The shortfall in player deposits should never have happened. I should have provided better oversight or made sure that responsible others provided that oversight. I was a founder in the company that launched Full Tilt, and I became the face of the company’s management in the poker community. Many of our players played on the site because they trusted me.”
Even after the letter went viral among the close-knit poker community, however, Lederer bided his time before buying into his first live poker tournament in over five years.
Lederer waited until the start of Event #16 ($10,000 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship) before taking his seat, and while his presence in the tournament area quickly attracted attention, no incidents of verbal harassment or other untoward behavior were documented.
Lederer wasn’t able to shake off five years’ worth of rust though, and he failed to record his first live tournament cash since 2011.
His former colleague, and the one-time face of Full Tilt Poker, wasn’t beholden to the same reservations. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson was actually the first former Full Tilt Poker executive to make an appearance at this year’s WSOP.
Ferguson – who designed the software used by Full Tilt Poker, appeared in most of the site’s television advertisements, and disappeared from the public eye soon after “Black Friday” – bought into Event #3 ($10,000 Seven-Card Stud Championship), making headlines almost immediately.
Although the role that Ferguson played in the company’s financial policy remains unclear, many poker players and fans still reserve much of their anger for the pro once known reverently as “Jesus” due to his long hair and beard.
One player expressed this sentiment directly to Ferguson, first asking him to look over for a photograph, before lambasting him with a few choice profanities and publishing video of the heckling to Twitter.
Despite the negative vibes and uncomfortable atmosphere, however, Ferguson wound up notching his first cash since 2010 in Event #5 ($1,500 Dealers Choice Six-Handed), finishing in 19th place for $4,069.
Ferguson proceeded to place 13th in Event #12 ($565 Pot-Limit Omaha), barely missing out on a final table appearance which was sure to rock the poker world to its core. Ferguson has also cashed in two other events thus far, making it clear that his time away from the tables has not eroded the skill set that once made him one of the top professional players on the planet.