French investor push to buy Full Tilt Poker fails
LAS VEGAS – A French investment group's push to buy troubled online poker operator Full Tilt Poker for $80 million fell through after the potential buyer couldn't agree with the Department of Justice over how quickly players with money tied up on the site would be repaid, a lawyer for the group said Tuesday.
Benham Dayanim, a Washington-based attorney for Groupe Bernard Tapie, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that prosecutors changed their offer earlier this month and wanted players repaid in full within 90 days of the sale.
"We were not prepared to do that," Dayanim said. "The DOJ did not make that a deal-breaker until the very end."
Jerika Richardson, a spokeswoman for the U.S Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, declined to comment.
Full Tilt lawyer Barry Boss confirmed in a statement that its agreement with the Tapie group had been terminated.
"Despite this development, Full Tilt Poker is more optimistic than ever that its No. 1 goal will be obtained: Full Tilt players will be repaid," Boss said.
Boss said Full Tilt was still in settlement discussions, but he declined to give details.
Executives and others associated with Full Tilt were indicted a year ago on charges of money laundering and bank fraud. Prosecutors said they tricked banks into illegally processing funds for online gambling by disguising the payments as transactions for purchases like golf balls and flowers.
Two other companies, PokerStars and Absolute Poker, also had executives indicted in the same initial sweep.
PokerStars spokesman Eric Hollreiser said in a statement Tuesday that the site is in confidential settlement discussions with the Department of Justice. He also declined to give details.
"As soon as we have information to share publicly we will do so," Hollreiser said.
The sites were immediately shut down to Americans. Full Tilt was later closed to the rest of the world, after it lost its license to operate overseas. Gambling regulators on the British Channel Islands said at the time that the site lied to officials about its finances.
Since then, PokerStars has gained market share outside the United States, averaging 23,600 players — nearly 42 percent of the worldwide poker market — at any given moment during the past week, according to poker traffic site PokerScout.com.
The group backed by French business tycoon Bernard Tapie got a letter of agreement from the Department of Justice in November in hopes of brokering a sale of Full Tilt, restarting the site and getting its gamblers their money back. The Tapie group would have paid players outside the U.S., while Americans who gambled at the site would send claims to the Justice Department. Current investors with stakes in Full Tilt would not have been allowed to have a stake in the new company.
The Tapie group planned to restore balances immediately to let players play poker, but needed more time before allowing them to withdraw all their money from the site, Dayanim said.
Dayanim said the change came just as the deal with the Justice Department was being finalized.
"Clearly, we understood that they were negotiating with another party," Dayanim said.
A lawyer for Full Tilt CEO Raymond Bitar, one of the company executives under indictment, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment from the AP.
Dayanim said the deal also failed because the group couldn't resolve whether creditors and courts would view the buyout as valid without coming after Tapie for Full Tilt's other debts. More time to restore player balances would have helped resolve that, but the 90-day demand made that unworkable, he said.
"Ultimately, we made the best offer we could make," Dayanim said.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .