On Monday, May 9, Absolute Poker and UB released a statement that confirmed long-held suspicions that their team of pros would be disbanded. The news, while disturbing, was not much of a surprise to those familiar with the events of online poker’s Black Friday, which saw the U.S. Department of Justice issue indictments against Absolute Poker, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
As a result, 11 pros were laid off including Joe Sebok, Prahlad Friedman, Eric "Basebaldy" Baldwin, Maria Ho, Brandon Cantu, Tiffany Michelle, Scott Ian, "Hollywood" Dave Stann, Adam "Roothlus" Levy, Bryan Devonshire, and Trishelle Cannatella.
In its statement, AP/UB said: “We are truly saddened that circumstances have dictated this course of action, and we regret that we are no longer in a position to partner with our sponsored pros, or to provide them with a source of income for playing the game that they love. We appreciate their significant time and dedication shared with us, and we thank them for the loyalty and patience they have continued to show us even during the unsettling events of the past few weeks. We respect and admire them for their many accomplishments, both at the poker tables and away from them, and we will always be grateful for their valuable contributions to building the UB and Absolute Poker brands and to creating a rock-solid community at the pair of online poker rooms.”
So how have the former pros been taking the news? It has only been a day since the news broke, but it seems the overwhelming consensus is that it came as no surprise. Here is a look at what some pros said on their respective Twitter accounts.
Eric Baldwin (@basebaldy): “What a relief it is not having to work two jobs anymore!”
Prahlad Friedman (@PrahladFriedman): “You never know the future. Tell them you love them and show it.”
“Hollywood” Dave Stann (@Hollywood_Dave): “Godspeed #TeamUB. So close 2relaunching the coolest new blackjack tourney platform on the web, gonna have to find a new home now. Blog 2moro”
Scott Ian (@Scott_Ian): “Not gonna stop me from playing ‘@PokerNews: Absolute Poker & UB part ways with poker pros to focus on non-U.S. market. bit.ly/kjG4kw’”
Adam Levy (@Roothlus): “I'm a free agent suckahhhs! Wombat Poker where ya at????”
While the vast majority of pros chose to either remain silent or comment briefly on Twitter, a couple of former UB pros elaborated on their release/Black Friday in their blogs. One of these pros was Devonshire, who had recently signed an extension with Team UB prior to receiving the bad news. Here is a look at what he had to say.
“Well today I received notice that my contract with UB was terminated. I saw it coming and can’t say I blame them. I’m surprised that the rest of the US pros on other sites haven’t been released yet either . . . It was and still is a scary time. My life was turned upside down by this indictment and I’m not even close to the worst affected . . . Instead I have over $30k still stuck somewhere offshore and lost at least 20 months of a very lucrative endorsement contract. I have a depressed attitude and a disdainful sentiment toward my own government."
“So, my money’s stuck on UB too. I don’t have any reason to believe that they’re at a greater risk to not return funds. Yes it hits UB hardest. Yes a lot of staff has been laid off. But I have no reason to believe that the company has an impending bankruptcy or an unwillingness to return funds to players. They want to remain in business and right now that means a downsizing and handling this ordeal properly: funds returned, employees paid, and things done legally. I didn’t have any control over this stuff or any internal business decisions for UB at any point during my involvement with them and certainly don’t now. I’m in the same boat as y’all now: hoping to get my money off as soon as possible.”
While it was nice to hear some of the reactions from various pros, the poker community was anxious to hear specifically from one pro who had remained silent since the events of Black Friday - Joe Sebok. Since joining UB in September 2009, Sebok has been one of the most controversial figures in the poker industry. Many admired his willingness to search for answers after the Superuser Scandal while others criticized his decision to align his reputation with such a company. Since then, Sebok has continued his pursuit of the truth, albeit, with mixed success and acceptance from the poker community.
On Monday, Sebok took to his blog to address the company for the first time since Black Friday. Some of the highlights from his blog included.
- “Some within the playing community wanted promises and assurances and I wouldn't have been able to make or give them. It wasn't a situation of running or hiding; I just simply couldn't contribute anything of any value and didn't want to add more noise. Additionally, I didn't want to do anything whatsoever that could possibly endanger American players getting their money back, despite not knowing what those things might be."
- “When I signed with UB, I really thought I could change the world. I worked harder than any of you will ever know to try to do just that. In the end though, it seems that I was more naïve than I thought I was. I thought that I would be able to will change to happen, as I had always been able to in past positions, but I simply didn't have that power at UB."
- “I apologize to all of you for not being able to accomplish all that I wanted to. I never had any mal-intent and I certainly never knew of anything that I would have considered to be morally questionable. The involvement of Scott Tom, etc, if it was there, was certainly something that was always shielded from me, despite my constant questioning and bringing it up . . . I think when all the dust settles from the current situation, we will have a better idea of how naïve I really was.”
- “Regarding the current state of AP/UB, I haven't given up hope that all of you will get your money back. I believe that UB is making many, many efforts to get you that money. You may say, ‘Well, if there were lies before...’ and that's totally fair, but their is absolutely a segment of that company trying to do the right thing. I dearly hope that they are successful. I have been told by upper management that ongoing discussions have been happening between the DOJ and UB with that being the focus. There is a lot of misinformation being thrown around and it really saddens me that so many have fanned the flames of panic when, in truth, they simply do not know what is going to happen, just like me. UB and their legal team is trying to work creatively to get that money back to players, I have been told. I haven't been promised that that can happen, but I have been informed that is the goal. This was never going to be a short process though, which leaves so much room for speculation. I am trying to not engage in that, hope, and be patient. It's not easy."
Sebok went on to say that “The pros' monies are still tied up on the site as well, so on that level we are all in the same situation as the general poker public.” For that reason, he opted not to elaborate on the dissolution of Team UB. Indeed, the general sentiment among the pros is that they’re hesitant to comment on UB for fear of losing access to their balances. This was evidenced by one pro, who will remain anonymous, that responded as follows to an interview request: “No worries about UB :) Think I'm gonna hold off on UB talk until we see how this payment mess works out.”
It seems that is all players and former pros alike can do at this point, sit and wait to see how things pan out.