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What Does It Mean?

March 7, 2012

Double rainbow image courtesy of Chirs and Lara Pawluk

That’s the question the poker world (and 2+2) has been asking since Poker Strategy published a public apology from Full Tilt Poker CEO and online poker pariah, Ray Bitar. The answer, I’m afraid, is nothing good.

What’s curious about Bitar’s statement isn’t its content or lack thereof, but rather, its timing. Why, nearly 11 months after the DOJ shut down FTP’s US operations, did Bitar finally break his silence? Is this a sign that the long-awaited GBT deal is about to reach completion? Are the players who’ve had their money locked up on FTP finally going to get repaid? Will FTP rise from the ashes?

The optimists among us all hope so. Cynics, like myself, don’t.

Not being able to speak for the optimistic crowd, I’ll take just a few moments to explain my views on Bitar’s comments. First, let’s look at what Ray had to say in response to Poker Strategy’s first softball question:

PokerStrategy.com: Ray, there has been public outrage surrounding the fact that you have been silent since the Black Friday shutdown and indictments. Can you say why you haven’t made any public statements?

Ray Bitar:  There are two reasons. One is the ongoing legal process which has precluded me from providing any relevant information surrounding the on-going investigation, and of course, I have not wanted to jeopardize the process in any way. While I could have made general statements throughout this process, they would not directly relate to the issues under investigation. Any such statements would be so general in nature that they would not provide answers to the many questions people understandably have…

The second reason is that, along with others, I have been working every single day since Black Friday to ensure players are repaid, which has been my top priority, as well as working on the future plans of FTP.

Did anyone actually expect Bitar to say anything different? Of course not. This is a standard, boilerplate answer that any embattled CEO would provide. He admits nothing and gives nothing away. It’s a statement that he could have given at any time over the previous 11 months without jeopardizing any part of the deal or hindering the legal process that FTP is currently navigating its way through. (My attorney friends can correct me if I’m wrong about this.)

So, if Bitar’s statement doesn’t change anything the question is, why speak out now?

While my opinion is nothing more than speculation, I have to think that Ray is softening the ground before news breaks that the GBT deal is, like many people have already surmised, officially dead on arrival. In my mind, it’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Why? Well, let’s look at who Ray is speaking to. His statement isn’t meant for FTP’s board, its shareholders or any of the myriad folks who have been working on trying to put the bailout deal together for the better part of the past year. They all know what’s going on. Instead, Ray is speaking to the player base and the great unwashed masses who already hold him in contempt. He’s pleading his case.

With that in mind, let’s look at why Ray justified keeping quiet about the FTP situation for so long:

It was done out of necessity to ensure the focus remained on the continued efforts to reach the best outcome for the players. My entire focus is on obtaining a successful resolution for the players. I hope that before long I can provide some good news for all of the players involved.

Maybe what Ray is saying is true. Having some personal insight into his character, I can tell you that on some level, I do think he is sincerely sorry for what has happened. But the thing about Ray is, he doesn’t do anything without a reason and that reason is usually something that he believes will benefit himself in the long run.

Working to obtain a successful resolution for the players is all well and good, but to many observers, this statement seems like way too little way too late. If Ray really wanted to build goodwill, he could have said this months ago when people may have actually believed him. By waiting until now, however, it looks like he’s trying to save what little shred of his reputation he can while, at the same time, setting GBT up as the bad guys when the buyout deal most likely falls through. It’s the classic, “It wasn’t me, it was them” defense.

I really hope I’m wrong about Ray’s motives and the status of the GBT deal because I think it would be good for the players and the poker industry if it somehow comes to fruition. Seeing as how I’m a cynical SOB, however, I’ll remain skeptical until I’m proven wrong.

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