Green Friday: FTP money returned

Editor's note: After an update from the Garden City Group, the number of reimbursed players that was originally reported as 30,000 has since been updated to approximately 27,500. Likewise, payouts have been reduced from $82 million to $76 million.

So who's going to Sizzler?

After 1,050 days, more agonizing to some than others, more than 27,500 American poker players are finally seeing their Full Tilt Poker money in their bank accounts. The Department of Justice made Black Friday a day of infamy in the poker industry, but on this Friday, we’re one step closer to the end of a dark chapter in the history of the game.

The Garden City Group, hired by the Department of Justice to manage remission payments to those who had money on FTP, made $76 million in payments early Friday morning. Players who received their money today were those who did not contest the account balances declared by the Garden City Group as part of the petitions for remission. Players who were designated as affiliates for the site or who disputed their balances will continue to wait for remission until their cases are resolved. Additionally, those who didn't provide correct bank account information during the remission process will wait until checks are sent out in March.

The balances among today’s recipients varied greatly, from a couple of dollars to tens of thousands, but for two of the online game's most visible players, Mike Sowers and Blair Hinkle, the return of this money should be a significant boost to their bank accounts. Sowers, who earned more than $500,000 by winning one of Full Tilt's largest tournaments just weeks before Black Friday, shared his relief on Twitter and thanked PokerStars, whose settlement with the Department of Justice paved the way for the Full Tilt Poker money to be returned.

Hinkle has spoken often about his frozen million, which primarily came from his chop in the FTOPS XIX Main Event, and he is thrilled to see his money once again.

"I'm just glad that everyone is finally getting paid out," said Hinkle to ESPN on the Poker Edge. "It's finally all over."

John Pappas, executive director of the poker players alliance, estimates at least another $50-60 million remains in accounts designated for reimbursements.

Today’s rejoicing is in stark contrast to the despair that set in for most American online poker players in September 2011, when the government labeled Full Tilt a Ponzi scheme. Some professional online grinders left the game for good due to the inability to pursue their passion. Others relocated abroad to continue their playing careers, while some entrepreneurs sought the seized funds, buying them up for a reduced rate from distraught players who believed they’d never see their money again.

"My thoughts on [April 15, 2011] were never that I wasn't going to get my money," Josh Brikis said. "It grew [to that fear] over time ... Like everyone else I just wish that day never happened and I could just sit in my house and not leave my son to go play online poker. And today ... well now I wish I bought all the FTP money everyone was selling."

Brikis woke up this morning with a sense of relief and five figures added to his bank account.

"I'm happy to have my money returned," he said. "I'm also very happy for friends with tons more."

Once Full Tilt repayments are complete, only balances on Absolute Poker, the third site seized, will remain outstanding, with little progress on that front. PokerStars repaid its American players shortly after Black Friday.

With this influx in the poker economy, will there be greater attendance in upcoming tournaments, especially the WSOP? Will players return to the online scene in greater numbers in the three regulated and legalized states (New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware)? Can the return of this money engage those who want to play again to lobby their state legislatures to approve a regulated online game? Will brick-and-mortar casinos see a boost in their offerings?

The return of this $76 million won't do much for the general American economy, but for the poker economy, this could be the beginning of a new chapter in one of the country's greatest hobbies.