Take a step back in time to April of 2011, when the US Department of Justice cracked down on major US-facing online poker sites in the unsealing of indictments that became known as Black Friday. PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker were effectively shut down by the American government and several key figureheads in those companies were targeted by multiple allegations of criminal activity, such as illegal online gambling and money laundering. Among them was Ray Bitar, the former CEO and co-founder of Full Tilt Poker.
Bitar, along with his founding partner, US poker pro Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, received the highest amount of criticism for his role in what was eventually uncovered to be a ‘Ponzi Scheme’. Once the DOJ seized control of Full Tilt Poker and froze the company’s assets, it turned out that there wasn’t nearly enough money on the books to cover the millions upon millions of dollars in players’ accounts. That money, estimated around $444 million, was instead paid to himself and other directors of the company.
In 2012, PokerStars came to the rescue, agreeing on a settlement with the US government that included paying several hundred million dollars, plus a few hundred million more to purchase the defunct Full Tilt Poker brand. In doing so, PokerStars not only provided the US with more than enough money to reimburse all American members of the Full Tilt online poker site, but agreed to refund the accounts of all non-US players as well in exchange for ownership of the domain. In the meantime, Ray Bitar was being arrested at JFK Airport in New York.
Now jump ahead to April 2013, two years after Black Friday, when Ray Bitar plead guilty to the charges of wire fraud and running an illegal online gambling operation. The judge was prepared to hand down a sentence to the then-41 year old Ray Bitar of 65 years in jail while ordering him to surrender $40 million to the courts. However, Bitar was already suffering from a terminal, Stage Four heart condition. The judge declared that a 65 year term would be “tantamount to a death sentence”, therefore his penalty was reduced to forfeiting the $40 million, which was syphoned from 18 bank accounts across 5 countries.
When the news surfaced last week that Ray Bitar would not go to prison for his crimes, the online poker community at large was stunned. Many accused Bitar of faking his heart ailment to avoid prison, saying he essentially ‘got away with it’.
Enter stage right US poker pro Allen Cunningham, former Full Tilt Pro and employee of Mr. Bitar prior to Black Friday. Allen was quick to defend his former boss on the TwoPlusTwo forums. “To all the conspiracy theorists: according to my sources, Ray Bitar is unlikely to live more than a couple years and is nearly penniless. He didn’t get away with anything,” wrote Cunningham.
“I feel like that’s not getting away with it in a karmic way, at least. And especially in contrast to the conjecture at the beginning of the thread that he had hidden accounts and faked the heart problem.” Cunningham attested that he, “would trade places with any of his victims over him. Some people still haven’t gotten paid and it’s mostly Ray Bitar’s fault, but he isn’t benefiting from it.”