So Full Tilt Poker just keeps player deposit safely locked away, right? Money may change hands as poker hands are won and lost, but isn’t the total deposit base intact?
Wrong. At least according to Phil Ivey’s lawsuit.
Ivey alleges that “Full Tilt Poker failed to maintain a reserve account sufficient to satisfy the return of funds to U.S. players.”
Full Tilt Poker, like most places that take your deposits, doesn’t just sock away the money. Instead, it invests a large chunk of that money. Banks do it, brokerages do it, and even insurance companies do it.
For example, in a country with a bank reserve requirement ratio of 10 percent, banks would only hold 10 percent of their total deposits in cash. They would then lend/invest 90 percent of the money to earn returns.
Of course, the greater percentage of depositor money banks invest, they more money they can make for themselves.
Regulators know this.
That’s why there are laws governing how much reserves banks maintain. Moreover, if banks ever run into trouble, a government central bank is usually there to help bail it out.
In the case of illiquidity, the central bank can just lend money to banks. Illiquidity is usually caused by an unusual high demand for withdrawals. Or, some banks just have really illiquid assets (i.e. they can’t be sold quickly, like real estate investments).
In Full Tilt Poker’s case, the US government shut it down on April 15. On April 20, it reached an agreement with the US government to return all US player deposits. Perhaps understandably, Full Tilt isn’t prepared to return this huge amount of money all at once.
In the case of insolvency, taxpayers usually bail out the banks. Insolvency is usually caused by investments gone awry.
For Full Tilt Poker, the situation is unclear.
Is there legal requirement for reserve ratios for online poker rooms? What did Full Tilt invest in – loans, stocks, other financial securities? Is Full Tilt illiquid, insolvent, or financially sound? If it’s in trouble, will the government bail it out, just like it did for Wall Street in 2008?
All these questions remain unanswered.
Ivey alleges that Full Tilt owes around $150,000,000 to US players. Tight Poker reports that “US poker players who have their money stuck in Full Tilt Poker bank accounts are still awaiting their money” and “it has become a bit obvious that not everyone is going to get paid and no one would receive all their money.”
Full Tilt didn’t immediately return IBTimes’ request for comments. IBTimes can't independently verify Ivey's allegations because IBTimes can't get access to Full Tilt's financial statements. The U.S. Attorney's Office also declined to comment. Full Tilt's statement regarding deposit repayment can be found here. Its statement regarding Phil Ivey’s boycott of WSOP is here.
To contact the reporter responsible for this story, call 646-461-6003.