Poker news | Mar 19, 2021
Full Tilt Poker Shuts Down after 17 Years – A Look Back at Its Wild History
By RTR Dennis
Full Tilt Poker finally closed its virtual doors after 17 years in the online poker business. Flutter Entertainment, owner of PokerStars and Full Tilt, decided that now was a good time to shut down the iconic brand.
Purchased by PokerStars in 2012, Full Tilt experienced a rapid decline after Black Friday. It was eventually moved onto the Stars platform and never really developed into a true asset.
Full Tilt was no doubt one of the most-influential sites in the game’s history. It also had an eventful and sometimes crazy past. That said, I’m going to look back on Full Tilt’s wild history.
Jesus and Bitar Form the Foundation
Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Ray Bitar are two of the more-infamous names among online poker players today. Long before they became hated for their roles in Black Friday, though, they were busy laying the foundation for Full Tilt Poker.
Bitar, a professional day trader, met Ferguson in the early 2000s and really saw the potential in internet poker. The two brought Phil Ivey aboard to help with marketing and also began asking prominent pros to join the roster.
Full Tilt launched in the summer of 2004 and soon became the site where one could “Learn, Chat, and Play with the Pros.”
High Quality Software & Big Tournaments Propel Full Tilt
Most online poker rooms weren’t much to look at in the mid-2000s. Full Tilt, however, became an exception to the norm after redesigning its tables, backdrops, and avatars in 2005. It became the cool place to play thanks to its colorful and unique look.
Of course, Full Tilt didn’t rely on funny avatars and glossy poker settings alone. It also began launching huge tournament series, including the annual FTOPS event.
The large tourneys and great software didn’t immediately make Full Tilt the most-trafficked site. But these aspects did make it one of the most-popular poker sites.
UIGEA Puts a Damper on the Market
Every US-facing online poker room was hit hard by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. With the UIGEA’s passage, US financial institutions were no longer allowed to process unlawful internet gambling transactions.
Some sites, like partypoker, completely vacated the US market at this time. Full Tilt, on the other hand, choose to keep accepting Americans—a move that would greatly boost their traffic.
Full Tilt rose to become the second-largest internet poker room behind PokerStars. It also boasted the industry’s biggest roster of sponsored pros. FTP hats, patches, and jerseys were easy to spot in major televised tournaments and cash games.
This site became the premier spot for high-limit players too. Famed pros like Ivey, Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom, Tom Dwan, Phil Galfond, and Patrik Antonius routinely battled on the cyber felt, with many railbirds watching the action.
Black Friday Exposes Full Tilt
Full Tilt experienced a meteoric rise from 2004 to 2011. However, the party came crashing down on April 15, 2011, when US authorities seized the site’s domain name.
FTP made a deal to regain their domain name in exchange for repaying customers. There was just one problem with this deal, though: Full Tilt didn’t have the players’ money!
As cries for repayment became louder, FTP’s top brass remained silent. The Alderney Gambling Control Commission eventually revoked Full Tilt’s license over the non-payments.
The board members, Bitar, Ferguson, Howard Lederer, and Rafe Fuerst, didn’t have the funds. They’d personally enriched themselves and their Team Full Tilt buddies instead while poorly handling what was left.
The Post Black Friday Days Weren’t Much Better
Despite poorly managing Full Tilt and blowing upwards of $300 million in player funds, the board members all successfully avoided jail. They gave up most of their assets as get out of jail free cards.
With Full Tilt and its players in limbo, PokerStars stepped in with a $731 million offer to buy FTP and avoid its own legal troubles. After all, Stars was in the same boat as Full Tilt. The only difference is that owner Isai Scheinberg actually had more than enough money to buy PokerStars’ way out of trouble.
Since the 2012 purchase, FTP remained in the hands of Stars. The only thing that changed was the parent company, as Scheinberg sold to Amaya Gaming, which became The Stars Group, which joined Flutter.
FTP never came close to regaining its prominence following the Black Friday fiasco. It recently became clear to Flutter that PokerStars is its only worthwhile online poker asset these days.