Black Friday History Week: How it All Began

Published On: 9 April 2012 / Modified: 9 August 2018
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black friday history week how it began

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." – George Satayana

One year ago this Sunday, the US Department of Justice brought charges against Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and the Cereus Poker Network (Absolute Poker/UB).

Every day this week we'll be taking a closer look at the events that led to poker's Black Friday.

Today we reveal the origin stories of Black Friday’s three principal characters.

For a full history of what's happened since Black Friday, see our Black Friday Bulletin Board.

PokerStars: The Hero

PokerStars has played the hero in the Black Friday story since day one, making a deal with the DOJ to continue operating outside of the US, and facilitating the return of player money.

Despite federal indictments including money laundering and illegal gambling PokerStars’ image is untarnished by Black Friday.

One of the few photos of Isai Scheinberg.

But while PokerStars may be the best and brightest online poker site in the world now, it wasn’t always the case.

Stars got into the game early, launching a beta play money poker client on September 11, 2001 and following it up with real money poker on December 12 of the same year.

Stars started life in Costa Rica as Rational Enterprises Limited, created by Israeli-Canadian Isai Scheinberg.

The turning point in PokerStars history came in the form of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.

Party Poker, the world’s biggest online poker site at the time, pulled out of the US market.

PokerStars did not, and by taking much of Party's market share it became the giant it is today.

Full Tilt Poker: The Villain

It's hard not to see Full Tilt as the villain in the Black Friday saga. The site was knocked out completely and has yet to repay its former customers.

And the information that has come to light about how the company was managed in the months leading up to Black Friday is disturbing, to put it lightly.

But in the years leading up to April 15, 2011 FTP was an industry-leading brand represented by the biggest names in the game.

Team Full Tilt

It was the home of high-stakes poker online and its logo adorned the caps and hoodies of a generation of online poker players.

Full Tilt Poker was born Tiltware, LLC, a software company based in Los Angeles that had an initial budget of just $5 million.

Ray Bitar was the businessman while marquee poker names like Howard “The Professor” Lederer, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and the great Phil Ivey lent their credibility and poker expertise to the product’s development.

Also on the Team Full Tilt roster from the beginning were Erik Seidel, John Juanda, Andy Bloch, Erick Lindgren, Phil Gordon and Clonie Gowen.

The site became fully operational on July 10, 2004.

The years between then and April 15, 2011 saw steady growth as the adolescent FTP grew into one of the biggest poker sites in the world.

When the US government introduced the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in 2006 Full Tilt Poker continued to offer online poker services to US players.

joseph tokwiro norton
Joseph Tokwiro Norton

Cereus Poker Network: The Pariah

With major cheating scandals having tainted both Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet, it’s a wonder the Cereus Poker Network was even around to finally go down for the count as a result of Black Friday.

Ultimate Bet was launched in 2001 by eWorld Holdings in Antigua and licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

Previous to 2006 Ultimate Bet’s parent company Excapsa Software traded on the London Stock Exchange, but when the UIGEA was introduced Excapsa sold its assets to Tokwiro Enterprises.

Absolute Poker was launched in 2003 by Tokwiro Enterprises which, not coincidentally, has its headquarters in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory nine miles south of Montreal, Canada.

In 2008 Tokwiro Enterprises launched the Cereus Poker Network, which housed both Absolute Poker and Ulimate Bet, which rebranded itself in 2009.

Both sites continued accepting players post-UIGEA.


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