It was bound to happen. Some of the people at the center of the Full Tilt fiasco were going to return to the largest poker festival in the world at some point.
Chris Ferguson had been spotted around Las Vegas at various points since Black Friday but not at the World Series of Poker, despite the rumor that he was going to play in the 2014 WSOP. Howard Lederer was in the spotlight after Black Friday, having given a long interview to PokerNews and then appearing at various poker tournaments and in cash games at the Bellagio.
Meanwhile, Ray Bitar is living it up with his new wife following their million-dollar wedding this year.
This year, they both threw caution to the wind and played at the WSOP. Lederer released a statement through former foe Daniel Negreanu on May 19 to apologize to the poker community, which was widely seen as a precursor to his reemergence at the WSOP. And he did just that on June 11:
Howard Lederer has entered the building. pic.twitter.com/zjxScf5WCe— Donnie Peters (@Donnie_Peters) June 12, 2016
Ferguson made his appearance a few days before.
15 left in the WSOP $565 PLO event that drew 2,484 entries, including Chris Ferguson. pic.twitter.com/nbArqfZ24L— Donnie Peters (@Donnie_Peters) June 11, 2016
If the responses on social media are any indication, many people in poker are not pleased about it. The wounds are deep, but do they justify the level of anger after five years have passed? Or do Jesus and Howie owe something more to the poker community?
Make Them Pay
Many poker players seem to feel that Lederer and Ferguson should not be allowed to play at the WSOP. Others feel that they should not be given the opportunity to profit from other poker players. Some feel that Lederer’s apology was insincere – too little, too late – and that Ferguson got away without ever making an attempt at an apology. So some players at the WSOP went out of their way to make them uncomfortable, one player even filming himself cursing out Ferguson at the table.
Dear WSOP players, please slow roll Chris Ferguson as many times as possible this summer. Thanks.— Greg Merson (@GregMerson) June 8, 2016
In general, many feel that their crimes against the poker community – both legal and ethical – were simply too serious to warrant any forgiveness. Poker players had their bankrolls out of reach for years, with most having to argue with the Garden City Group to get their money, others settling for pieces of their account balances, and a few receiving nothing at all. All the while, none of the Full Tilt executives received any meaningful (in the public’s view) criminal punishment.
"I'm just here to play poker" Ferguson's only comment dismisses the damage he caused the poker community while hiding under the covers.— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) June 7, 2016
In their eyes, Lederer and Ferguson feeling uncomfortable at the WSOP is a small price for the former Full Tilters to pay.
Let Them Play
Some, albeit a minority it seems, feel that Ferguson had little to do with the decision making that caused the Full Tilt meltdown. Mike Sexton told PokerListings – and insiders have repeatedly told me the same off the record – that people should hear his side of the story before judging him, though that is difficult because Ferguson has never said one word about it to the poker public in five years. On the other hand, he watched Lederer take the heat from the spotlight and get bashed for it, so that doesn’t exactly offer an inviting forum in which Ferguson may feel open to speak.
Saw this on Facebook this morning, re: Chris Ferguson returning to the WSOP. pic.twitter.com/B5psRLnIcU— Donnie Peters (@Donnie_Peters) June 5, 2016
A portion of the poker pros at the WSOP seemed to let the presence of Ferguson and Lederer slide, instead focusing on their own poker games. Five years have passed, they paid fines and legal bills, and what’s done is done. As long as they keep their heads down and play along with the crowds, they should be left alone.
I gotta say, Chris Ferguson has some balls. If I were him and had a burning desire to play #WSOP, I think I'd cut my hair and lose the hat— Alex Jacob (@whoisalexjacob) June 12, 2016
Two Sides, No Answers
Clearly, there are two sides to every story. If Ferguson – even Lederer – would give a full, open, honest, and detailed stories of the Full Tilt fail, maybe the poker public would change its overall tune. Daniel Negreanu did come around to accept Lederer’s apology after publicly lambasting him for years, and Negreanu’s opinion matters a great deal to a lot of poker players.
The lack of sincerity from Lederer in his post-Black Friday interview with PokerNews, combined with relative silence from everyone else involved with Full Tilt, hurt most of all. While players suffered, they were also left without any real answers. Until that silence is broken, anger may continue to simmer.
In the end, some players will never forgive. And Lederer and Ferguson may continue to be made to feel uncomfortable in public poker settings. That may be the price they pay to play.