Full Tilt Poker’s domain was seized back in 2011 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the former CEO was sentenced and forced to forfeit assets that included US$40 million in cash and a number of properties two years later.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the long journey Full Tilt Poker has taken in the last few years. That hasn’t stopped Valve from allowing the free-to-play poker software to launch on its distribution platform, though.
It was April 15, 2011. That was the day the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment from March against former CEO Ray Bitar and Full Tilt Poker principal Nelson Burtnick, with other owners and staffers on Absolute Poker and PokerStars also being named. The charges? Violation of federal gambling laws, money laundering and fraud.
The Justice Department later alleged in a civil suit that the site and its directors defrauded poker players out hundreds of millions of dollars, which would eventually result in Bitar agreeing to plead guilty, serving time and handing over assets.
Amidst all of this, PokerStars ended up acquiring Full Tilt as part of a settlement with the Justice Department. ESPN reported that deal cost around US$731 million, and PokerStars had to forfeit US$547 million in the process. Amaya Gaming Group then acquired PokerStars in 2014, which resulted in them taking control of Full Tilt Poker.
Sounds like the kind of software you’d want on your digital distribution platform, right? Users haven’t been impressed so far, although it’s worth noting that the 25% user rating from 54 reviews is nothing compared to the latest estimates of nearly 10,000 players using Full Tilt Poker through Steam.
It’s not unusual territory for Valve to allow a fully-throated gambling experience on their platform, even though it is the first poker game on their platform to encourage real-money gambling. The Four Kings Casino and Slots launched on Steam in the middle of last year, but it is only a simulated gambling experience.
“We would have to do a huge overhaul to our game and remove features that do not comply with real money online gambling laws,” one of the Four Kings developers posted in their Steam forums last year.
Full Tilt Poker’s Steam version follows roughly the same line. You can spend real-world money for in-game chips — packages up to US$199.99 are available — and the only age verification is a simple check box that any Steam user can bypass, along with the “how old are you” drop down boxes on the store page.
The Steam version doesn’t have access to any real-world money tables. But if you try and view the game guide, contact form, hotkeys, your login history, tournament history, account history or promotions, you’re taken to the Full Tilt Poker website, where you’ll see advertisements and links to the standard application and all the real money tables and tournaments on offer.
This isn’t the first time Steam has embraced gambling. The nature of boxes, crates, drills and skins has become part and parcel of the CSGO and Dota 2 economies, with other games such as PAYDAY 2 even adopting the model to boost their own finances.
Mark Ody, Full Tilt’s marketing director, was reported saying that the process of getting on Steam “has given us some great insights into the crossover of the gaming and poker communities and we hope to capitalise on this and other initiatives in this area in the coming months”.
Instead of tacitly promoting gambling through cosmetic items, Valve is allowing more than 125 million accounts to be exposed in a far more overt manner. Even if only 0.1% of Steam users make an account, that is still a massive window of opportunity for Full Tilt Poker.
And Full Tilt is just a drop in the world of online poker too. According to Amaya’s conference call for their third quarter earnings last year, Full Tilt only has 3% market share. PokerStars, in comparison, has 68%.
“While these gaming deals are unlikely to bridge that cavernous gap, they have the potential to attract thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of players to the world of online poker, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it,” PokerNews asked at the time.
For online poker, perhaps not. But what about for Steam — and video games?