Late Monday afternoon, Blanca Games, the ownership behind the embattled CEREUS Network sites Absolute Poker and UB.com, announced the termination of their contractual agreements with eleven of their sponsored pros.
In the announcement, Blanca Games stated, “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.”
Last week, Blanca Games laid off approximately 95% of their operations staff and, on Monday, those professional players who were sponsored by either Absolute or UB were also released from their contracts. “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,” the statement concluded. “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.”
The players affected by the Blanca Games termination notice comprise some of the bright young stars of the tournament poker arena. 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 all received the axe as a result of Blanca’s actions. Cannatella, the “Real World” television star, was sponsored by Absolute Poker, while the other ten held spots on Team UB.
Reaction was swift from the players involved. Sebok, who came under much scrutiny when he signed on as a sponsored pro for Team UB and admitted that his goal was to “clean up” the site following the UB Superuser Scandal, penned a blog post at PokerRoad.com prior to the announcement. “I’m not sure where to start with all of this,” Joe began. “I am deeply sorry and heartbroken about player’s situations on UB/AP where their money is currently frozen right now. I understand how many of you depend on this money to live and have been put in dire straits by all of this. If there was anything I could do to get your money to you, I would do it. None of us could have foretold “Black Friday” and just how black it ended up being.”
“When I signed with UB, I really thought I could change the world,” Sebok despairingly admitted. “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.”
“In closing, I want to apologize to the poker community for where I may have failed you all. I worked hard to try and accomplish a bunch of goals, more than perhaps I ever had any chance of doing. Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew, and I may have done exactly that in this situation. I’m not sorry for trying though. I honestly don’t regret it. I just regret not being able to do more,” Joe concluded.
For his part, Bryan Devonshire was a bit more combative about his ouster, although at the U. S. government and not Blanca Games. “Today I received notice that my contract with UB was terminated. I saw it coming and can’t say I blame them,” ‘Devo’ noted on his blog. “I’m surprised that the rest of the U. S. pros on other sites haven’t been released yet either. They pay us to represent them for nothing more than a marketing value. The money they spend on us turns a profit through increased traffic and revenues. When our primary market no longer exists, our marketing value decreases significantly. UB’s market share is primarily American, and for the time being that market is closed.”
“My life was turned upside down by this indictment and I’m not even close to the worst affected,” Bryan continued. “It makes me sad that our country puts on a face of freedom and democracy yet holds the highest incarceration rate of ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.”
“I do not understand why our country has gotten into the business of legislating morality,” Devonshire queried. “It doesn’t work. It never has. I don’t understand why our country has gone into many wars in the last century protecting foreign nationals from oppressive dictators while at the same time putting its own people in jail for similar moral crimes.”
“So, my money’s stuck on UB too,” Devonshire concluded. “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. I’m driving to Vegas now. I hear there’s some live tournaments going on. At least I can still play live poker and my government says that’s okay.”
Some of the other former Team UB members were a bit more jovial in their reflections. “What a relief it is not having to work two jobs anymore!” Baldwin jokingly reflected on Twitter yesterday afternoon following the announcement. “Godspeed Team UB. So close to relaunching the coolest new blackjack tourney platform on the web, gonna have to find a new home now,” “Hollywood” Dave Stann echoed. Defiant as ever, Ian, the legendary guitarist of the metal band Anthrax, stated, “Not gonna stop me from playing.”
The loss of sponsorship particularly hurts Prahlad Friedman, who just signed on as a member of Team UB at the beginning of 2011. Maria Ho was also a recent addition to the Team UB roster, signing a sponsorship deal in November 2010. All of the other members had been longtime sponsored players by either UB.com or Absolute Poker.
By EARL BURTON