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More than five years after Black Friday, the mere mention of former Full Tilt executives like Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson draws ire from many in the poker community. This article about the return of Lederer and Ferguson to the World Series of Poker this summer did just that.

There are poker players and fans on both sides of the dilemma. Some say that Ferguson had little to do with the company decisions that led to the Full Tilt fiasco, and Howard Lederer issued a seemingly sincere apology in May. While people in that camp are typically quiet about their feelings, those who feel that people like Lederer and Ferguson got off easy and never really paid for their crimes against all of the poker players who were cheated and victimized. Those in that camp are a bit more vocal.


What Will a Chris Ferguson Apology Accomplish?

Former Full Tilt Board Members: Where Are They Now?

Ethics Committees Attempted in Years Past

There is little precedent for an ethics committee in tournament poker. While other sports have organizations that regulate or oversee the conduct of players in their games, poker has yet to collectively decide on a way to do the same.

Jesse Jones attempted to form the World Poker Association, but many poker tours and companies balked at the idea of a singular group to create rules and regulations for everyone. The Tournament Directors Association sets game rules and has much support throughout the world for its standards, but there is no mandate that poker rooms or tournament organizers adopt them.

The bankrupted Epic Poker League implemented an ethics committee, which developed a code of conduct for players allowed in the league. Chino Rheem was put on probation after an Epic victory due to the chaos that ensued when numerous poker players wanted pieces of his winnings to pay outstanding debts. The committee also voted to prohibit Ferguson and Lederer from playing in the league. There were mixed reviews about the committee, but it ultimately went nowhere when the league folded.

Read the Opposing Viewpoint Right Here! Poker Problems Can’t Be Solved With Ethics Committees

Committees on a Company Basis

Since there is no overall unity among poker tours on a global scale, any ethics committees would have to be formed by one company that wants to set a new standard for the industry. In order for it to work, a large entity like the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, or European Poker Tour would have to take on the responsibility of developing a code of conduct, a committee to make decisions and rulings, and a great deal of transparency for the poker world.

The only organization that does something similar is the WSOP, but it happens without the committee and transparency. The WSOP can decide to ban someone from its events and from all Caesars properties without so much as a review or a vote, making the decisions inconsistent and somewhat random. A clear set of rules must be revealed and enforced uniformly, and professional poker players must be able to participate in the committee and vote on decisions that come from those rules.

For the most part, when poker players are banned from a tournament, series, or property, there are allegations of cheating involved, and there are few in the community who question those decisions. Well-known players who offend, break rules, or conduct themselves badly are often warned instead of banned due to the publicity that would ensue. The current process is not only closed and random, but it lacks anything that could be considered to be a model for the industry.

In cases like Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson, an ethics committee could rule on whether they should be allowed to return to the WSOP or any other series, irrespective of legal decisions or criminal judgments. The larger poker population would be able to weigh in and know that their voices are heard, while the players in question would receive fair consideration.

Since the WSOP or WPT is likely to be the first to implement such a committee, it is the responsibility of the wider poker community to demand it. Petitions and general social media pressure could have some effect, as could the voices of some of the biggest names in poker (ahem, Negreanu).

Do you feel that there should be ethics committees in poker? Please let your thoughts be known!

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.