Script and Audio by Craig Bradshaw / Video Bruno Thienard
It’s April 14th 2011 and Phil Ivey finishes his latest session of poker. His total winnings on Full Tilt are almost at the $20M mark, making him by far the biggest winner in online history…. but things are about to change.
Phil Ivey’s love affair with online poker started in 2007 – during a time when he was already being hailed as world’s best, with 6 WSOP bracelets to his name at a relatively young age.
The online poker boom was only just kicking off, and in November of that year, he was offered an amazing opportunity – He received equity in the fast growing company Full Tilt Poker and became one of their sponsored pros.
In that first year, Ivey won $2M on Full Tilt.
His 2008 is even better, as he adds more than $7M to his online bankroll, before winning a further $6M in 2009.
Another $2.2M follows in 2010, and while Ivey is happy to play against dangerous opponents such as Tom Dwan and Patrick Antonius, much of his winnings probably come from Guy Laliberte, who lost $25M online as described in one of our earlier videos.
What was unknown at the time, was that Ivey, and other sponsored pros had an unlimited amount of financial support on offer if they needed it, with Full Tilt offering lines of credit, while paying sponsored pros a salary too.
Ivey was paid $920,000 per month for being a sponsored pro.
Black Friday was the day when everything changed. On April 15th the U.S Department of Justice unsealed a 52 page indictment against top executives at Pokerstars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker, as well as a civil complaint against those companies.
This action brought Full Tilt’s activities to an end in the U.S but also unveiled a huge management scandal in the company.
Player funds were not kept separate from company funds, and some sponsored pros were millions in debt to Full Tilt. The company was unable to pay back all of the players who had entrusted their money to Full Tilt, and many people lost their bankroll.
As a sponsored pro and a shareholder in the company, Phil Ivey’s reputation was damaged by the scandal, and he responded by not showing up at the WSOP that year – a gesture of solidarity with those who were not able to play because of their bankrolls being lost on Full Tilt.
He also sued Full Tilt for $150M, with the figure set to reduce if Full Tilt could start paying back lost bankrolls.
Phil Ivey’s actions were a step in the right direction, but were not strong enough according to many.
Andrew Robl pointed this out when he said “Phil Ivey is one of the primary equity holders of Full Tilt and has profited off their business more than almost anyone – If he really cared about the players he would pledge to return every cent of the MILLIONS of dollars he’s made from Full Tilt to the players”.
Interestingly, Tom Dwan, who was not a sponsored shareholder and was simply a sponsored pro pledged that if player funds were never repaid, he would use all the money he ad made on Full Tilt to reimburse players.
Ivey’s online path following Black Friday has shifted too. Playing under the name ‘Polarizing’ once Full Tilt reopened under new ownership, he lost 6.4M, and under the name ‘raiseonce’ on PokerStars, he dropped $2.4M. He has not been seen online since 2015.