The nightmare is finally over for poker pro Blair Hinkle.
During the first wave of the Full Tilt Poker remission process last week, the Missourian received a $1 million ACH deposit from Garden City Group, the firm that was hired by the federal government to help compensate victims of what was once labeled a Ponzi scheme.
Those who were accused of stealing from players — Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Ray Bitar and Rafe Furst — had all settled their respective cases. However, former customers still had to wait for compensation, which was to come from the feds.
In February 2011, just weeks before Black Friday struck and accounts were frozen, Hinkle won seven figures in a Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS ) main event. His prize was one of the largest the site had ever awarded. It coincided with the company’s alleged insolvency. Hinkle had no way of knowing that his money was in serious danger, or that his winnings existed as what authorities eventually labeled as “phantom funds” within the site.
When Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars settled with the government in July 2012, it marked the first real hope for former customers. It took months and months, but the money is here for some — around $76 million of it. That’s less than half of what was missing, though.
Card Player had the chance to speak with Hinkle shortly after he got his money, to hear how it felt to have the long overdue $1 million returned to him.
Brian Pempus: So you got your transfer Friday morning?
Blair Hinkle: Yeah, I was actually playing a mega satellite at Commerce, and people started talking about how some of the payments had come through. So, I checked my bank account and sure enough I had a much larger amount in there (laughs).
BP: Was that a pretty sweet feeling?
BH: Yes. It was getting stressful in the mega satellite. We still had ways to go, but it was getting to the point where everybody was starting to get nervous and that definitely took the edge off. I didn’t end up getting a seat, but I didn’t feel so bad when I lost, which was nice (laughs).
BP: Do you feel like you are going to be freerolling things for awhile?
BH: I’ve been having a lot of work done on the house that I bought and I just got engaged, so now I feel that I am freerolling that stuff. We were stressing about the amount of money we were spending on stuff like that, as it kind of just starts to add up as you go, especially with doing renovations on a house. So, this was definitely a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.
For the longest time the money was supposed to be for a house and the engagement ring, and other things like that, but it ended up, because of Hard Rock…it felt it got pushed forward on a lot of stuff. Now it’s kind of like long-term money. Hopefully I’ll be set for poker for a long time. I’m doing well with bankroll management, so unless I jump into One Drop, I should be fine.
BP: Have you had any thoughts of just putting it all in for the $1 million buy-in?
BH: That’d be pretty awesome. It’d be one of the more baller things you could do. But I’m not worried about my baller status as much anymore. I’m getting to be one of the older young kids. So, yeah, I’m probably not going to be jumping into the One Drop. It would be fun, though.
BP: Did winning the Florida tournament make you less anxious to get this money back?
BH: Yeah, it meant a lot. I felt like I had been putting stuff off for so long. I had been depending so much on the Full Tilt money. I had told myself not to, but at the same time you have it in the back of your head. You always have it sitting back there, no matter how much you try to ignore it. It’s a huge relief now. The Hard Rock helped a ton, because it was like getting the money early.
It is going to be nice to not think about “what ifs” anymore. It’s set in stone; it’s in my bank account. They can’t take it back (laughs). Well, I hope they can’t take it back. My brothers and friends that I’ve talked to are really excited, too. It’s finally over.
BP: Do you have plans to celebrate at all with them in the coming weeks?
BH: I wish I had something planned, but it’s kind of a busy time poker wise. I’m going to be in L.A. for the [L.A. Poker Classic] and San Jose for the Bay 101 Shooting Star. But right after that though my brothers, family and a bunch of friends are going out to Las Vegas for the first weekend of March Madness. I think we could set up something pretty good over there (laughs). I think that would be the best time to celebrate.