Since Black Friday, much of the poker world has been closely following the dramatic, divergent stories of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/UB, the three sites targeted by the Department of Justice’s indictment and civil complaint. However, there has been significant drama over recent months involving three other sites, too — DoylesRoom, Victory Poker, and the Cake Poker network. Targeted them selves, by a later Department of Homeland Security action (unsealed on May 23), DoylesRoom has seen its dot-com domain seized. However, prior to that action deals between DoylesRoom and Cake Poker left the latter in severe financial straits, with one consequence being the hastened demise of another, prominent site on the Cake network, Victory Poker.
The DoylesRoom-Cake Partnership — Two Years, Four Million +
Founded in 2004, DoylesRoom originally resided on the Tribeca Network before moving to Microgaming in 2007. Then in late January 2009, DoylesRoom moved once again to the Cake Poker network. At the time of that move, DoylesRoom borrowed $15 million from Cake Poker in order to settle its debts to Microgaming as well as to fund marketing campaigns going forward. (Note: Figures associated with the DoylesRoom-Cake partnership are close estimates of amounts given to us by several associates close to DoylesRoom, Cake, and Victory Poker.)
DoylesRoom remained part of the Cake Poker network for two years before moving once again, this time joining the Yatahay network in late January 2011. At the time of that move, DoylesRoom still owed significant money to Cake Poker.
Incidentally, while the exact nature Doyle Brunson’s previous involvement with the site that bears his name is unknown, a Twitter message from @TexDolly sent on January 10, 2011 noted he was “off to Cosra Rica for three days” (sic), suggesting a trip to DoylesRoom’s headquarters in Costa Rica. On May 13, 2011, a week-and-a-half before the DOJ domain seizure of doylesroom.com, Brunson announced he was terminating his endorsement contract with DoylesRoom.
Of that original loan of $15 million from Cake Poker to DoylesRoom, $2.5 million had been kept on deposit by Cake. Meanwhile, DoylesRoom had paid back approximately $9 million, with about $6.8 million still being owed. Minus the amount kept on deposit, DoylesRoom still owed Cake Poker about $4.3 million at the time of the move to Yatahay. Of that amount, DoylesRoom paid back 10 cents on the dollar to Cake, or about $430,000.
In other words, Cake Poker’s two-year relationship with DoylesRoom cost the network about $4 million plus altogether, a big hit for a relatively modest-sized network. To their credit players were always paid on time and the network continued to function as always. But there have been consequences.
As Cake Crumbles, Victory Suffers
Some of those consequences affected Cake Poker’s internal operations. According to a former Cake Poker employee, almost half of Cake’s staff were laid off. While the network’s operating budget was severely affected, it should be noted that at no point have player funds on deposit been at risk, although that situation remained tenuous for a couple of months.
Another consequence of the DoylesRoom-Cake Poker separation concerned Victory Poker, the site headed by 28-year-old CEO Dan Fleyshman. Launched in February 2010, Victory Poker began as part of the Everleaf Network before moving to the Cake Poker Network (CPN) in August. While never a large site in terms of player traffic, Victory did manage to earn a lot of attention thanks to the availability of CEO Fleyshman and the signing of high-profile pros like Antonio Esfandiari, Andrew Robl, Jonathan Little, and others.
Soon after joining Cake, Fleyshman recognized the network was potentially heading toward some financial difficulty and thus arranged a meeting between individuals who had invested in Victory Poker and Cake Poker brass in an attempt to find backing for the struggling network.
That meeting took place in London on January 5, 2011. Before the meeting Fleyshman posted on his Facebook page that he was “Walking into one of the top 5 biggest meetings of my life with ‘Big Boy’ executives who flew in from 6 countries.” However, despite such excitement, the meeting did not meet with the success Fleyshman or Cake envisioned.
In fact, once the potential backers got a look at the status of Cake Poker’s balance sheet and the unpaid debt from the DoylesRoom loan they not only declined to invest in Cake, they allegedly pulled their backing from Victory Poker as well. Fleyshman returned to his Facebook page to express his frustration: “I rarely curse,,. But today I calmly cursed 3 dozen times… Negativity & rudeness makes me :#€£¥%*•~# Grrrrrrrrr.”
Victory Nearly Turns Cereus, Then Folds
Left in a somewhat desperate situation in their own right Victory Poker made a decision to leave the Cake Poker Network and join the Cereus Network. Reactions in late March of this year to news regarding that impending move were mixed, with many wondering why Victory would choose to join embattled Cereus. At the time, Fleyshman spoke of the opportunity to join to the third-largest network as a primary incentive, although other factors — including the need to separate from Cake — were likely in play as well.
Then came Black Friday, two days after which Victory Poker announced it was no longer accepting U.S. players. In fact, on April 15 representatives of Victory Poker already had plane tickets in hand, ready to fly to Costa Rica to meet with Cereus, sign contracts, and finalize their deal. Given what the Black Friday indictment and civil complaint alleged regarding the Cereus network’s operations, one could say that Victory Poker’s having been prevented from completing its deal to join Cereus is a silver lining of sorts amid an otherwise dark scenario for the site.
While no longer serving U.S. customers, Victory Poker remained open as part of the Cake Poker Network until June 1 when it announced it was ceasing its poker operations altogether and that all of its players would be transferred to the Cake site. Victory Poker now plans to continue as an affiliate site offering news and strategy, but no games.
Cake in the Wake
While Victory Poker’s poker room has gone silent, DoylesRoom has moved its operations over to a new domain, doylesroom.ag, where it continues as part of the Yatahay network. Meanwhile, the Cake Poker network has survived.
A “strategic partnership” between PokerListings and the Cake Poker Network was announced in March of this year, essentially a partial selling of a majority stake in the Cake Poker Network to PokerListings, which has ensured Cake is at present and going forward financially secure. Previously — before Victory Poker’s involvement with CPN and well before Black Friday — attempts were made by Cake to sell the network in whole or in part to both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker according to our sources, though both of those major sites turned down the offer.
Cake now appears to be adopting a strategy whereby it maintains a lower profile in the U.S. than it had previously as far as advertising and promotion is concerned. Such an approach may well be recommended, given the attention being paid other sites that are seeking a more conspicuous U.S. presence.
Several attempts were made to contact representatives of Cake Poker and DoylesRoom for comment on this story. Neither site responded.