On first read, former Full Tilt principals Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer appear to have reached very similar settlements with the U.S. Government.
Remember: these settlements are a contract between the U.S. and Ferguson / Lederer. They reflect an agreement between the parties as to the facts of the situation – facts that become part of the public record once settlement is approved.
Difference #1: U.S. Internet Gambling Restriction
Both settlements contain a stipulation regarding the ability to work or profit from Internet gambling in the U.S.. But the phrasing differs in key ways (emphasis mine):
Howard Lederer Settlement
“Lederer further agrees not to work for, or derive money from, either directly or indirectly, through the operation of any internet gambling business in the United States, including businesses offering internet poker in the United States, until if and when a change in applicable law takes place making the offering of such gambling lawful in the United States and Lederer, or whatever entity with which he is affiliated, obtains appropriate authorization from all relevant governmental regulatory authorities.”
Chris Ferguson Settlement
“Ferguson further agrees not to work for, or derive money from, either directly or indirectly, any business offering unlawful internet gambling in the United States. While Ferguson maintains that poker does not constitute gambling, Ferguson specifically agrees not to work for, or derive money from, either directly or indirectly, any business offering internet poker in the United States without such business having first obtained the appropriate authorization, as necessary, from all relevant governmental regulatory authorities in United States.”
Those are some potentially substantial differences. Consider:
- Lederer can’t take part in “any internet gambling business in the United States.” But Ferguson is only barred from “any business offering unlawful internet gambling in the United States.” Big difference, especially given the legal uncertainty at the federal level regarding what constitutes “unlawful Internet gambling” (thanks, UIGEA!).
- Ferguson “maintains that poker does not constitute gambling.” Inclusion of this stipulation isn’t the same as the U.S. agreeing with Ferguson on the point, but you’ll find nothing similar in Lederer’s settlement.
- Lederer is essentially banned from taking part in the U.S. “internet poker” market “until if and when a change in applicable law takes place” making “such gambling lawful.” There’s no such restriction placed on Ferguson.
Difference #2: Judgement vs No Judgement
Lederer agrees to the entry of a civil money laundering penalty judgment in the amount of $1.25 million (the “Additional Funds”) , plus the Liquidated Funds (together, the “Money Judgment Funds”), and to the forfeiture of the Money Judgment Funds for disposition according to law, pursuant to Title 18, united States Code, Section 981, without admitting any liability thereunder.
Ferguson agrees to forfeit to the United States all funds in the Ferguson Account (the “Ferguson Account Funds”) for disposition according to law, pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Section 981, without admitting any liability thereunder.
Note the lack of any entry of penalty in Ferguson’s settlement. He pays the money and the matter is settled. But Lederer has an actual judgement entered against him.
As a lawyer familiar with the case speaking on background told me, “Dismissing a case without judgment against a defendant is a legal distinction with a huge difference, one that may not become evident to folks in the gaming space until down the road.”
Difference #3: Awareness of FTP’s Problems
From the recitals of each settlement comes a third distinction (emphasis again mine).
“WHEREAS, Lederer contends that Full Tilt Poker was a legitimate business providing services to its customers within the bounds of the law, and that prior to April 15, 2011, he was unaware of any wrongful activity at Full Tilt including that the company had become unable to satisfy its player account liabilities;”
“WHEREAS, Ferguson contends that Full Tilt Poker was a legitimate business providing services to its customers within the bounds of the law;” [...]
“WHEREAS, Ferguson contends that he was unaware of any wrongful activity at Full Tilt or that the company had become unable to satisfy its player account liabilities;”
By the language of the settlement, Lederer was aware of “wrongful activity” at Full Tilt after April 15th. But Ferguson was never aware. If either attempts a return to the gaming industry, this could become an important distinction in licensing (and similar) processes.
Difference #4: Credit for $14mm
Lederer and Ferguson were both targeted for a similar amount – $42mm vs $42.5mm, respectively – by the government.
These amounts were, as the government told it, the the amount of distributions paid to the men from Full Tilt’s coffers.
As part of the recitals for the Chris Ferguson settlement, however, it’s noted that he:
[...] forgave approximately $14 million in dividends owed to him by Full Tilt, and Ferguson represents this was done with his expectation that these funds would be used pay players for monies held at Full Tilt;
Lederer received no similar “credit” for contributing financially to attempts to make Full Tilt’s players whole. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has anyone else associated with Full Tilt Poker.
The formal history of what went wrong at Full Tilt Poker is still being written. And those involved – especially those in positions of control - still have plenty to answer for. But, at least as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, it appears that some have less to answer for than others.
For reference, here’s a summary & full-text copy of the settlement PokerStars reached with the DoJ.