Cereus, consisting of Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet (UB), appear to be taking their final breath in the world of online poker. They have not paid a player in over two weeks, email replies stopped several weeks ago, and cash game action is down to virtually zero. Cereus has until October 31st to respond to the U.S. government seizures and they have not paid any U.S. players, much less made any public announcements about the situation.
Players outside of the U.S. have only received token cashouts ranging from $250-$1000. Now that even those payouts have stopped, it is obvious that the end of Cereus is here. While it is very likely the money is lost forever, there are a few things that can be done to improve your chances of seeing at least a fraction of the money that you are owed by Cereus. Note that I do not have any money stuck on Cereus, this is just what I would do to try to improve my chances of getting paid, even if it was only a slight chance.
At some point when you started playing on Cereus, or the terms changed, you agreed to their terms and conditions. This term is especially troubling:
8.7 Dispute Resolution
Absolute Poker will respond to any player complaints, claims disputes or grievances. You agree that if you have any complaints, claims, grievances or disputes with Absolute Poker regarding any of its Services, the Games, staff, promotions you will first contact Absolute Poker in writing by email, as soon as practicable, to voice your concerns, complaints, claims, disputes or grievances. In all circumstances you must notify Absolute Poker of your concern, complaint, dispute or grievances no later than six months from the day the concern, complaint, dispute or grievance was discovered or should have been discovered. To the extent that you are unsatisfied with the response that you receive you may contact Absolute Poker’s then primary gaming regulator. Absolute Poker’s current primary gaming regulator is the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC). You agree to submit to the relevant authority of the then primary gaming regulator for settlement of any outstanding disputes or matters arising out of this Agreement or the enforceability of any of the terms herein. You shall not object to any action or settlement being brought in the jurisdiction of the primary gaming regulator, nor claim that the action or settlement has been brought in an inconvenient forum, or that the authorities do not have jurisdiction. For as long as the KGC is the then current primary gaming regulator, any judgments rendered by the authorities of the Mohawk Territories of Kahnawake shall be binding, final and conclusive in all matters.
I am not a lawyer, but that reads to me that you have to go to KGC. Their reservation is the proper jurisdiction. You can file a complaint with KGC here. If you do not like the KGC ruling then there is little you can do. While that type of agreement might not stand up in the U.S., the KGC is essentially on its own sovereign land. No outside government has ever convinced them to do something against their will. Do not expect for that to change now. Still though, you must make a formal complaint with KGC and have them investigate. KGC is trying to clean up their image in the online gambling world. They want to be taken seriously as the industry becomes more and more regulated. That does not mean that they will be able to help, but you have to at least start there. KGC has been responding to players regarding the Cereus situation although at this point nothing has been done to get players get paid.
Filing a Lawsuit Against Cereus
If the KGC complaint does not get this resolved, it would appear that if you wanted to take legal action against Cereus then you are going to have to do it on the Kahnawake reservation. I do not know anything about the inner workings of the court system there. I would expect that it would not be an easy process, and even if you prevail, Cereus is essentially bankrupt. To even file the case, you would have to figure out a lot of information about the corporate structure. That may not even be possible. There is no telling how many empty shells that were once Cereus are around and what they are called today, much less what they were called when you deposited and when you had your money stolen.
Once you figured all of that out, you would have to find an attorney that is licensed to practice law on Kahnawake that will represent you. This whole scenario would be such a nightmare and even if you prevail, there is virtually no chance you would ever collect anything except a moral victory. It would cost a fortune to get what would probably be a useless judgment. Even if there are a few dollars left, Madeira Fjord shareholders and the U.S. government would almost certainly be in line ahead of you if there is a liquidation.
The Department of Justice declared Full Tilt Poker a ponzi scheme, I expect a similar declaration from the DOJ about Cereus. When that happens, I expect the KGC to make some sort of statement. They have been much quieter than Alderney has been about Full Tilt Poker. I know the KGC has hated this situation and they want it to go away. That will be the time for KGC to clean their hands of this mess, or step up to the plate. While it is not likely they reach into their wallet, it is possible that they come up with some sort of procedure. If it is determined insiders stole player’s funds, management could be held personally liable, much like the Full Tilt Poker situation. This is another reason why contacting KGC is so important. I would imagine that KGC knows more about where the money is than U.S. authorities. If that is true, it is possible the KGC could turn out to be the hero here.
The Madeira Fjord shareholders are owed $250,000,000 on paper. While that was not the true investment, the interest paid to Madeira Fjord shareholders was based on this paper loan amount. This group must be up to something trying to recoup some of their losses. A savvy investigator might be able to find out what they are doing. I doubt Madeira Fjord wants to be open about it since they will not competition in the debt recovery, but there must be some record of what is happening there.
The Madeira Fjord idea could be a dead end. I have not been able to find anything about them in months. If you are owed a lot of money you may want to investigate that further. If they have completely given up then that gives little hope to players. Blast Off Ltd, the company that sold Ultimate Bet to Absolute Poker, appear to have given up on ever getting the money owed to them. It would not surprise me if Madeira Fjord did the same. Still though, this is a different situation since the DOJ holds some cash that would appear to belong to players.
Department of Justice
Another thought, and what I feel would be the most beneficial and cost effective, is to pressure the DOJ into action. The Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York office number is 212-637-1060. While they are not responsible for the years of theft that Absolute Poker and Ultimate are guilty of, players are not in this situation without the DOJ’s action. Players should pressure the DOJ into tracking down Absolute Poker management and their bank accounts.
All of that money went somewhere. I am sure the money is well hidden, but it exists. Since it would seem rather clear that the insiders looted the company through mismanagement and cheating, if the company leaders can be located, there may be at least some of the money that can be located. If the entire organization is declared a fraud, the directors of the company could be held personally liable.
There should also be pressure made to player’s U.S. senators and representatives. You can find your House Representative here and your Senators here. There does not seem to be a firm number on the amount that the DOJ seized from Cereus but this number seems to be near $10 million. If the DOJ was really doing this to enforce the law and protect their citizens, then they should be pushed into paying players the money that they seized. Not doing so makes this look like the only motivation was to take the money for themselves, a theory that certainly is not far fetched.
In the years of government seizures of online gambling funds, the companies always ate the loss, not the players. This is a completely different situation. If the players can get the politicians involved in the pressure on the DOJ, it is possible that some money could be released. This course of action should be taken too by players owed money by Full Tilt Poker. That causes another problem though, there is not going to be an easy way to determine which players are owed what amount.
I am not claiming to know all here. I am just posting what I would do if I was owed any substantial amount of money by Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet. I feel doing some of these could increase your chances of getting paid, even if it is only slightly. I put the chances of getting paid anything at close to zero with the best chance being the DOJ releasing some of the funds that were seized. Cereus is to respond to the feds by October 31st. That response, if any, could change everything.
This was an unfortunate situation caused by the combination of a shady online poker network and a government that cannot seem to get online poker right. Hopefully in the end, the result of Black Friday is fully legal and licensed online poker in the U.S.