By Shari Geller and Lou Krieger
Last Friday, Costa Rican officials with the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) conducted a raid on the offices of Absolute Poker and UB, two of the online poker sites under indictment by federal authorities in the U.S. for money laundering, bank and wire fraud and illegal gambling activity. This followed word that the Blanca Games Inc. (“Blanca”), parent company of Absolute/UB, would have to file for bankruptcy. Today, not surprisingly, Blanca announced that all U.S. sponsored pros would have their contracts terminated.
"Recently, Absolute Poker and UB ceased their U.S.-facing operations due to legal developments in the United States. To ensure the on-going viability of the business, it has been necessary to downsize certain aspects of Absolute Poker's and UB's operations. These efficiency measures have been taken to enable the brands to continue to operate their non-U.S.-facing business.
"These actions are the result of the severe impact of 'Black Friday' on the business, and these efficiency measures have negatively affected not only the financial position of the brands, but also their staff and personnel. Regrettably, the negative effect of 'Black Friday' has extended to the Company's highest profile group of poker professionals, known as 'Team UB.' Consequently, Blanca's executive management team today informed its roster of sponsored pros that, in accordance with the provisions of their agreements, their contracts have been terminated. Each of the ten Team UB pros, plus one player representing Absolute Poker, has received personal notification that their sponsorship arrangement with Blanca's respective online poker room is now invalid.
"This was a difficult task for Blanca's management, and we are very disappointed that we have been compelled to sever ties with our sponsored pros. Over the years, the Company has been successful in gathering a group of young, extraordinarily talented and brand-appropriate poker professionals who have proudly sported its logos. 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 creating a rock-solid community at the pair of online poker rooms."
The full list of UB sponsored pros who are now out of a job is as follows: 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.
The two most famous names associated with UB were Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke. The two had been with the company for almost ten years and had co-hosted the UB-sponsored TV show, the Ultimate Poker Showdown. Both pros terminated their relationship with UB in separate actions last December.
Looking to replace Duke and Hellmuth, UB turned to some younger players who had come to fame with their brash personalities on ESPN’s WSOP broadcasts, including Prahlad Friedman and Tiffany Michelle, as well as pro Joe Sebok, alternately best known as Barry Greenstein’s son.
The response from the affected pros has been spare, but not muted. Bryan Devonshire tweeted, "UB released me today, has promised return of funds. Go f**k yourself DOJ. We beg for tax and regulation and you claim we're criminal. FFFUU." Adam Levy went to Twitter announcing, "I'm a free agent suckahhhs!” while Eric Baldwin also took a more humorous approach, tweeting, "What a relief it is not having to work two jobs anymore!" Rocker-turned-poker player Scott Ian took the most optimistic approach when he tweeted, "Not gonna stop me from playing."
One UB-sponsored player who did not comment about the terminations was Joe Sebok. Sebok became the de facto face of UB when he signed with them after the UB cheating scandal had been in the news. Many saw his accepting their sponsorship as a sign that UB was going to improve its reputation and put its checkered past behind it. In his rather long statement today, Sebok apologized to the poker community for "where I may have failed you."
That apology has not sat well with many in the poker community who have been attacking Sebok for his association with UB. Leading the charge today has been poker pro and former Sebok friend Shane Schleger who has tweeted invectives against Sebok since news broke about the terminations, including the charge that Sebok "turned a blind eye on blatant criminality."