Raymond Bitar: Founder of Full Tilt Poker
Raymond Bitar is the co-founder of Tiltware, LLC which runs Full Tilt Poker. Bitar, under his position of CEO, helped build Full Tilt Poker into the second largest online poker company in the world. His story doesn't end there though.
After a thorough investigation, the police discovered that Bitar had been taking Full Tilt Poker customer's deposited funds and was using them for his own personal benefit. His scheme devastated Full Tilt's customers, costing them over $390 million.
Foundation of Tiltware and Full Tilt Poker
Bitar started playing poker with his friends at the young age of twelve, excelling at the game and always having a passion for it. When he turned sixteen, Bitar started trading on the Pacific Stock Exchange where he served as a market maker for several years before moving on.
With his day trading experience, Bitar teamed up with another stock trading company where he became the head of his own office branch. Through this position, Bitar was introduced to Chris Ferguson, a professional poker player that he had always looked up to. Together, Ferguson and Bitar teamed up to discuss the possibilities of Full Tilt Poker.
Bitar's goal was to create a user friendly site with an improved user interface. He wanted to make sure the site used advanced technology and enhanced graphics to give it an edge over its competitors. The unique selling point of Fill Tilt Poker was that players had an opportunity to play against real professional poker players.
With Ferguson's help, Bitar gathered eight additional professional players to represent the Full Tilt Poker Team including Phil Ivey, Clonie Gowen, Howard Lederer, John Juanda, Erik Seidel, Andy Bloch, Erick Lindgren, and Phil Gordon. The site's motto was "Learn, Chat, and Play with the Pros".
Tiltware, LLC officially announced the launch of Full tilt Poker in Las Vegas during the 2004 World Series of Poker. Bitar set an initial budget of $5 million and the company flourished, quickly catching up with sites that had been around since the early 1990s. During this time, Bitar lived in California and was the CEO of the company.
In 2006, the United States announced the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) which restricted transactions from US players to online gambling sites. Because of this, most online gambling sites were forced to close their doors to US customers.
Realizing how detrimental that could be to Full Tilt Poker's revenue, Bitar decided to continue allowing US customers to play on the site. Since options were limited for US customers, many of them headed over to Full Tilt and became loyal customers to the site.
Leader of the Ponzi Scheme
Bitar's decision to welcome US customers came back to bite him on April 15th, 2011 when the US government seized Full Tilt's domain name. Bitar and his team had to work out a deal with the Department of Justice agreeing that they could regain the use of their domain name if they stopped catering to US customers and returned all funds back to them immediately.
This is when things started going horribly for Bitar. After months of customers waiting for their refunds, a scandal emerged. It became obvious that Bitar and some of his associates had been using customer's deposits to pay substantial salaries to their employees and sizeable dividends to investors. Bitar, himself, had put aside $24 million of the stolen money under his name in a foreign bank account. Full Tilt Poker had gotten to the point where they had taken so much money from customers that they were unable to successfully pay them back.
He and co-conspirators had secretly been tapping into customer accounts, where poker players thought they had safely deposited their winnings. As a direct result of Bitar's actions, Full Tilt owed $390 million to players around the world. PokerStars eventually agreed to purchase Full Tilt Poker for $500 million dollars so that their customers could get back the funds owed to them.
Bitar was charged on accounts of money laundering and bank fraud and was sentenced to up to 65 years in prison. Two years later, in April of 2013, he agreed to pay a $40 million fine in a plea bargain deal, because he was in desperate need of heart transplant. Bitar was then released from prison and he's now under house arrest and not expected to live more than a few years.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: April 2015
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