On Wednesday, ex-Full Tilt Poker owner Howard Lederer released a statement via Daniel Negreanus's blog on Black Friday (April 15, 2011) when Full Tilt Poker (along with another 2 major poker sites) was closed down by the United States Department of Justice and thousands of players couldn't withdraw their funds for years to come. Negreanu's blog post in red and Lederers statement in black.
Since Black Friday back in 2011 we have heard from Howard in a radio interview as well as an extensive "Lederer Files" interview conducted by PokerNews. Neither was received well and one of the more common objections to those interviews was the lack of personal responsibility for what ultimately happened. Much of the Lederer Files interview was spent deflecting blame and there was no real sense of a meaningful apology for his role in all of it. My assumption is that Howard did those interviews to clear his name to some degree, but I think it just enraged people even more. There was a smugness and an arrogance present during that interview that was off-putting to many.
During that period I was extremely vocal about my displeasure with him personally and with how everything was being handled. Looking back, while I stand by what I said back then, I would have handled it a little differently. It's been five years now and I've grown up a little since then. I don't regret being vocal about it all, but I would have left out the talk of baseball bats and handled my response more responsibly.
I've spoken to a few people about whether or not I should be the one to release a statement from Howard Lederer and I didn't get much support. I heard:
"Why should it be you?"
"Let him just post it on his own. You posting it is an endorsement of him and what he is writing."
Ultimately, I think the poker community will want to read this message and the vehicle is less important than the message itself. My posting of it, is neither an endorsement or a condemnation. I'm simply the messenger and I will provide my two cents on the statement below. Here is Howard's statement to the poker community:
I am writing to apologize to everyone in the poker community, especially to all the players who had money on Full Tilt Poker on April 15, 2011. When Full Tilt Poker closed in 2011, there was a shortfall in funds, a distressed sale to recover those funds, and a long delay in repaying players. Throughout this period, there was little explanation for the delay, and no apology. Players felt lied to. They trusted the site, and they trusted me, and I didn't live up to that trust.
I take full responsibility for Full Tilt's failure to protect player deposits leading up to Black Friday. The shortfall in player deposits should never have happened. I should have provided better oversight or made sure that responsible others provided that oversight. I was a founder in the company that launched Full Tilt, and I became the face of the company's management in the poker community. Many of our players played on the site because they trusted me.
Even though I was no longer overseeing day to day operations, my inattention in the two years leading up to Black Friday imperiled players' deposits. My involvement in Full Tilt from 2003-2008 put me in a unique position of trust-a trust that I disappointed by failing to ensure that Full Tilt was properly governed when I stepped away in 2008. My failure to make sure proper oversight was in place when I left resulted in the situation that began to unfold on Black Friday. Players were not able to get their money back for a minimum of a year and a half, and, for many, it has been much longer. I've been a poker player my entire adult life. I know the importance of having access to one's bankroll. The lost opportunity, frustration, and anxiety many of FTP's customers experienced in the intervening years is unacceptable. I cannot be sorry enough for what happened.
During Full Tilt's rise, I received a lot of praise. I couldn't see it at the time, but I let the headlines change me. In the first couple of years after Black Friday I made lots of excuses, to my friends, my family and myself, for why I wasn't the bad guy or big-headed or wrong. In the months immediately following the crisis, I focused a lot of energy on trying to refute allegations that were factually untrue. I convinced myself that I was a victim of circumstance and that criticism was being unfairly directed toward me instead of others. I was missing the bigger picture.
At a wedding in the fall of 2014, I was sitting with a friend, talking about Full Tilt. I was grumbling about how unfair my lot in life had become. My friend didn't let me off the hook. I'm paraphrasing here, but he said, "Howard, it doesn't matter whether you knew about the shortfall or what you did to help players get paid. These players feel like you lied to them. You were the face of the company in the poker community. Thousands of players played on the site because they trusted you. Many pros represented the site because they thought you were in control. And you happily accepted the accolades while falling short of their trust."
At the time, my friend's response felt like a slap in the face, but it is clear to me now that it was fair. An apology is not enough, but it is what I am able to offer to the poker community in the wake of a travesty that I should not have allowed to happen. I am sorry.
I think this is the kind of apology people would have liked to read five years ago. It may be too little too late for some, but it's a far cry from The Lederer Files. Does it definitively answer all the questions surrounding what he knew and what he didn't know? No. Does it change the fact that people who trusted Howard, both investors and customers alike, were let down? No. Does it mean that you should be any less pissed at him for what happened? That one is up to you I guess.
Thankfully, PokerStars came to the rescue a few years ago and made a deal with the DOJ to take over the company and make sure that the customers with money on the site were paid. Without PokerStars, it seems highly likely that none of the players who ultimately got paid would have ever gotten their money. I do know that Howard was working on multiple deals during that time, but from what I heard, it didn't seem like any of those deals would have panned out if not for PokerStars.
With Full Tilt Poker merging with PokerStars this week, it marks the end of an era. Some call it the "golden era." The perfect storm that created a poker boom like we'd never seen before and may never see again. The Full Tilt Poker chapter has been closed, and It appears as though Howard wanted to write this apology to turn the page on his own life. My guess is that many will have no interest in an apology from him. I do think there are some who, despite it changing nothing, will appreciate it.
If anything, I think writing this statement is good for him. It's the right thing to do. Of course, I wish it happened five years ago but it doesn't seem like Howard was in a place where he was ready to take responsibility for his role back then. In this statement, he does, and at the very least, I would imagine that its a relief for him to get it off his chest. The choice to accept his apology is a personal one. There is no right or wrong way to receive it. For what its worth, I personally believe the apology to be genuine.
I don't, however, expect Howard to ever be in charge of making decisions in the poker community in the future and I don't think he has any aspirations to. My guess is that he just wants to be able to play poker again without the vitriol sent in his direction. Will this apology accomplish that? I don't know. I can only say that for me, I'm not bothered by him being at the poker table anymore. The players have been paid and he seems to be finally acknowledging and owning that he really screwed up. I have no interest in continuing to hold my grudge against him. I don't expect us to ever be "pals," as we never really were even before, but the venom I once held inside for him has subsided and I'd also like to close that chapter of my own life.