Saturday 24 March 2018

Increasing fears for jobs in 'ponzi scheme' poker firm

online poker

Donal O'Donovan

HUNDREDS of Dublin jobs are under renewed threat after US authorities accused the owners of tech-firm Pocket Kings of running a "ponzi scheme" on their online poker website.

Full Tilt Poker, the owner of Pocket Kings, paid its board members more than $440m (€322m) with money that should have been held back to pay winnings to online poker players, US prosecutors said.

US attorneys have asked for the latest allegations to be added to charges of illegal gambling, bank fraud, and money laundering first levelled against executives at the company in April.

At that time the company was forced to suspend its US activities pending an investigation by gambling authorities. A French gambling licence and a licence issued by the tiny Chanel Island of Aldernay have since also been suspended.

Aldernay authorities held a closed licensing hearing on Monday and are understood to be examining some of the same allegations being pursued by authorities in the US.

Last week Pocket Kings said 250 of the 600 Dublin jobs were under threat, even before the latest allegations.

The Irish subsidiary is based at Cherrywood in Dublin and manages the technical and marketing businesses for the online poker giant.

It said the jobs could be lost when the company shrinks operations after being shut out of the lucrative US market.

The Irish business has a reputation in the industry for paying high wages but demanding long hours, including weekend and over-night work from staff.

It has also been noted for its lavish catering facilities that include catering overseen by a Michelin-star chef.

Free-spending Christmas and summer staff parties have seen staff being put up in hotels overnight, fed lavishly and entertainment flown in from as far away as Cuba.

"Full Tilt insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers, while blithely lying to both players and public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company," US attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Four of the directors, Raymond Bitar, Howard Lederer, Christopher Ferguson and Rafael Furst, were paid out of player funds since 2007, Mr Bharara said.


"Full Tilt Poker allowed players to gamble with -- and lose to other players -- this phantom money that Full Tilt Poker never actually collected or possessed," US court filing states.

According to Mr Bharara at the end of March, the company owed players worldwide about $390m (€283m), $150m (€109m) of which was owed to gamblers in the US.

Full Tilt had only $60m (€43.5m) in its bank accounts at the time, he added.

Unlike the jobs crisis in the wake of the Talk Talk pull-out from Waterford many of the IT professionals that make up much of the Pocket Kings workforce are being snapped up by tech giants including Google. (Additional reporting Bloomberg)

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