Commentary

Tom Dwan breaks his silence

Updated: September 23, 2011, 2:47 PM ET
By Gary Wise | Special to ESPN.com

Tom Dwan is really the face of the younger generation of poker. The online legend known as "Durrrr" has won and lost millions, played in the richest cash games in the world, and rose to fame among the online community through incredible play at the game's highest level. In 2009, he signed a megadeal with industry giant Full Tilt Poker and the resulting public spotlight shone bright on his, a new face among the old guard. When Dwan speaks, people in all facets of the poker industry listen with wide eyes and perked ears.

Finally, he has broken his silence since May about the site he once represented, and the poker world is listening again.

[+] EnlargeTom 'Durrrr' Dwan
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty ImagesTom Dwan last wore his Full Tilt patch on May 7, 2011 at the EPT Grand Final.

Since the release of the amended civil complaint, Dwan has been active with a series of interviews discussing the Department of Justice's civil complaint against PokerStars, FTP and Absolute. The amendment named four members of the FTP board -- Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Rafe Furst -- as well as delved into greater detail about financial goings-on at FTP and the monies the DOJ seeks to extract from the company and named individuals. It gave Dwan a freedom to speak he didn't previously feel he was entitled to.

"I was under an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] that I never saw, but I know it was very large," Dwan revealed to ESPN. "I was kind of a face of Full Tilt and it was a time where I had to follow it. I didn't want a situation where I'd lose enough money where I'd have to go grind $1/$2 for a year to pay them back. I wanted to talk about a lot of the stuff I've talked about for the last few days, but I felt like that would have been inappropriate. The DOJ made it easy for me because they said all the things that people had only known inside the company."

Now the lid is off. Dwan, who hasn't worn the FTP patch since May and considers his relationship with the company to have concluded, has held nothing back when speaking of the company's irresponsibility and his regrets over signing his sponsorship deal. Dwan's reaction to Tuesday's news of the amendment was a positive one.

Dwan's immediate response to the events of "Black Friday," the day the DOJ unsealed its indictment against the operators of PokerStars, FTP and Absolute, was to pledge the return of all money earned through his sponsorship deal. He's confirmed in recent days that the total would exceed $1 million.

"I was happy, I think that's good news," said Dwan regarding the amended complaint. "Before Black Friday, I liked all those guys, but I'm obviously really unhappy with their actions. To the people making decisions at Tilt, it should be very clear to them that they need to get players repaid or they're going to jail and [the DOJ's amendment] did a good job of that."

Despite representing the site as a player, Dwan said he wasn't fully aware of the intricacies that surrounded the management of funds.

"Obviously I wish I'd known they didn't have all the player deposits," Dwan explained. "I never would have signed with them. When I signed up, they probably did have all the player deposits or at least very close. I never wanted to be affiliated with something that runs very much like a bank without the money to cover everyone's deposits. That's just ridiculous."

Dwan's deal paid him to play while patched, but did not include ownership of a piece of the company. He understands why the FTP owners haven't been more communicative with their customers, but wouldn't have chosen that path.

"There's definitely some legal issues," he said. "If I owned a piece, I wouldn't be saying much, but I do think I would have guaranteed some money back in their positions. I know a bunch of owners have expressed interest in doing that to me. That was months ago, so I don't know if that holds, but I'd like to think they're still interested in doing that. I don't know if they'll follow through on that, but I hope they will. I understand that there are reasons for not [making such guarantees], but I think a lot of the owners should at least offer … something.

"They should be saying they'll pay at least 'this.' It would be a step in the right direction. Taxes and processing makes it more complicated, but it would still help. Something like that should be done. Now, it's possible there's some very valid reason to not do it, but if there is, I haven't heard it. Most of what I've heard is 'Oh, my lawyer advised me not to,' which to me seems like bull."

Dwan was also frustrated by the company's lack of communication since Black Friday, a statement many in the industry have echoed for the past few months.

"The owners have major legal and financial worries, so you'd understand if they didn't personally want to be more communicative, but I'd think they [could] find some better way to communicate with the players and I think they owe it to the players," he said. "It's the job of the board to ensure the play is on board there and obviously I and a lot of other people would have never signed with Full Tilt and a lot of people wouldn't have deposited money on Full Tilt if they thought there was a chance of all this happening."

The fallout for Dwan in the wake of Full Tilt's actions is a potentially damaged brand, but a lawsuit, similar to Phil Ivey's against FTP, is out of the question.

"Do they have a bunch of money laying around? …" said Dwan. "I wouldn't want to do it with a chance of players getting paid right now, but I am very bothered with the personal cost. I'm bothered that there's a chance I'll need to pay back the money I've made. I think that's ridiculous. I'm bothered that a lot of people are mad at me … the brand has been damaged, obviously. For now, my main concern is trying to not do anything that might hinder players getting back their money, doing whatever will make it more likely."

While Dwan is obviously disappointed in FTP, it's not the only target of his criticism. While he applauds the Department of Justice's amendment, he has been pointed in his proclamation that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's comments calling FTP "a Ponzi scheme" are blatantly false and inflammatory. He also sees the events that led to Black Friday as bullying.

"The DOJ tried to make people scared of a law that they knew the courts would not interpret, or at least they didn't know the courts would interpret the way the DOJ interpreted it," Dwan insisted. "They were hoping to put the sites in a position where they had to do something like committing bank fraud and then when they did commit bank fraud, the DOJ cracked down on that. Now, obviously, Tilt is in the wrong for not being able to cover player deposits, so it's hard to blame the DOJ more than Full Tilt, but I still feel support for the way the sites were treated. I think that a lot of people wouldn't have supported the DOJ until they found out the player funds weren't there and then obviously everything changes. People get way more unhappy with and mad at Full Tilt. Now, the chances someone runs to the DOJ are a lot higher than they would have been."

Dwan has not been contacted by the DOJ.

Despite the repeatedly bad news concerning the company, Dwan feels, without revealing too much, that things are looking up. "I think the picture is better than most people think," he said with regards to potential investors. "I don't want to go into much detail there. There's way more questioning going on out than there should be though."

Recent comments from an attorney associated with FTP, Jeff Ifrah, in an interview with SubjectPoker.com suggest that the company is deep in negotiations with a French investor group, so Dwan's stance makes some sense.

Dwan's future is foggy. He understands that he'll likely have to leave the U.S. in order to continue his online poker career and given his reputation, there is potential for a new sponsorship with a different site going forward. Regardless of where his affiliations may lie in the future, he'll remain one of the industry's most compelling citizens and as a result, we'll keep listening.

Gary Wise has contributed to ESPN.com since 2007. He is well-studied in the history of poker and presents a unique tableside view of the goings-on in the poker community. Google author profile

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