Broken: The Erick Lindgren Story

For a man once labeled “Everybody’s All-American” the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually jam-packed with trips to the mall to buy presents for the family, multiple trips up and down a ladder while putting Christmas lights on the house and then back to the mall so Junior can have his picture taken with Santa.

That’s not at all how Erick Lindgren, who once appeared on the cover of BLUFF with that All-American title, spent those weeks though. Lindgren, at 36 years old, was in a rehab facility in Newport Beach, California, trying to work through his addiction to gambling.

Erick Lindgren“I’ve had a gambling problem for a long time and I’ve finally got the opportunity to address it,” said Lindgren during his two-week stay at Morningside Recovery. Lindgren’s agent, Brian Balsbaugh, was approached by a mutual friend who offered to foot the bill of Lindgren’s stay at the facility in hopes of helping him out.

“They told me that there was a place like Morningside that was doing this and that if I wanted to get things right and do things the right way, I could check myself in and after some long thought and checking my ego at the door, I came here,” Lindgren said.

Lindgren’s path to rehab is largely about losing control of his action away from the poker table. The 2011 football season, and massive losses from betting it, was a life changer for Lindgren, who is married to Erica Schoenberg and has a 1-year-old son, Jake, with her. It was a number of close friends, and Schoenberg, that convinced him he needed professional help.

“I’d had a really tough year, I lost way too much money in football last year and couldn’t pay some fantasy football bets at the end of the year,” Lindgren said. “I owed people a bunch of money, and it’s something that I’ve been working on for a long time, but I definitely slipped up, made some really bad mistakes and I needed to address that.”

The poker world has known Lindgren loved to bet on sports for years now. He was always a man of action. In 2007, Lindgren famously won six figures by shooting under 100 in four consecutive rounds of golf in Las Vegas. ESPN ate it up. So did BLUFF. But in March 2012, it all came crashing down for Lindgren and the poker world learned that while he was certainly a man of action, he was a man of inaction when it came time to pay his gambling debts.

Max Weinberg, posting under the screen name “$kill Game” on TwoPlusTwo, called Lindgren out publicly for not paying him $11,000 in fantasy football winnings. Over the following few days the thread exploded with more posters coming forward about the amount of money that Lindgren owed them. By the time the thread reached 10 pages, Lindgren’s listed debts were in excess of $100,000. He claims he hasn’t read the entire thread but is aware of it.

“I’ve never been on TwoPlusTwo. Once in a while, I get a link from a friend on Skype or whatever, so I can’t say I haven’t opened it but I’ve never flipped page to page to page and seen all that,” said Lindgren, who lays some of the blame on Black Friday for his inability to get people the money he owed them. “I definitely owed some guys after fantasy football and, lots of times as a gambler you get caught up in a circle of trying to collect the money that’s owed to you and redistributing it to people you owe. Due to Black Friday and other things, it was a really bad time for everybody so people that owed me money weren’t paying me and in turn I turned into a liar for not paying those people and I feel really bad about that.”

“I just want to get back to where my word, when I say something, it means something and I just want to get back to a level of full accountability,” Lindgren said.

Which brings us back to Morningside Recovery. Lindgren wasn’t in rehab to cure him of gambling — that’s his day job and he knows he needs to continue to play poker and work in Las Vegas if he has any hope of paying all his debts and beginning the process of repairing his name.

“I do have a plan and that’s between me and those people and we’ve been in contact and I’ll reach out to all of them as we go,” Lindgren said. “I’ve been in touch with virtually everybody. I definitely don’t avoid any calls anymore.”

Working out a payment plan for the money he owes is a crucial part of Lindgren’s rehabilitation but it’s not the only desired outcome. Like most addicts forced to re-evaluate some aspects of their life in rehab, Lindgren says he has become more self-aware and recognizes his predicament is a result of his own actions and nobody else’s.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself here. I learned that I wasn’t that different from a lot of the people that have addictions whether it’s alcohol or drugs or whatever,” Lindgren said. “For a long time now, I’ve bet more than I should have bet on games and been in too much action and yeah, it was a lot of fun at the time, but it was irresponsible in a lot of ways.”

“Now I’m a family man with a wife and a 13-month-old child at home. So I just wanted to get my family to be the number one priority, be 100 percent family oriented and to learn how to focus and give 100 percent to work when I’m doing work and 100 percent to family when I’m doing family,” said Lindgren. “Sometimes it’s hard, as a lot of poker players and gamblers will tell you, it’s hard to get your mind off the numbers and the game and stuff like that, but it’s one of the main things I’m doing here is working on separating the two.”

The challenge for Lindgren is that he’s in a well-respected addiction rehabilitation facility knowing full well he’ll be doing the very activity which landed him in there in the first place again shortly after checking out of the facility — gambling is a part of his day job and not something that he can simply stop doing.

“That’s the thing, I don’t want to stop my profession. I just want to get better at it. I want to stay in full control, which means not gambling wildly, not going beyond my bankroll and gambling with other people’s money. I want to gamble the right way and do my profession as well as I can,” Lindgren said.

Erick Lindgren

“That’s why I’m at Morningside, to help remove that degenerate gene because for a really long time I was just a single guy that didn’t have any responsibilities really. I just travelled the world, played poker, bet sports, bet golf and it was a lot of fun, I’m not knocking that. At times, I probably took liberties of not paying people back as quickly as I should have and I certainly did but now I have a family at home, a wife that I love dearly and a son that is everything to me. So the only way I can care for them properly and get us back on track is by being responsible and doing things the right way.”

The biggest bombshell in that TwoPlusTwo thread came from Haralabos Voulgaris who claimed that Lindgren had owed him six figures for years and had failed to pay the debt in full. Voulgaris, known for being a successful high stakes NBA bettor and part-time poker pro, held nothing back.

“We all knew that (Lindgren) was pretty much a piece of shit when it came to settling gambling debts. But as long as the Full Tilt money train was chugging along paying distributions, nobody wanted to speak up. Now that it’s pretty clear that FTP is done, and so are any prospects of Erick being able to pay anyone back,” Voulgaris wrote on TwoPlusTwo.

Voulgaris’ post, in which he calls himself out for protecting Lindgren from public scrutiny while the debt sat unsettled, set off another firestorm. Lindgren’s public image of the “All-American” cover boy was left shattered, almost as completely as his finances.

According to Lindgren in 2003 or 2004 he approached Voulgaris, who he’d been introduced to through a mutual friend on the poker circuit, asking for advice on which online sportsbooks he could trust. At the time, Voulgaris was running

“He pointed out a couple; he didn’t really want me to bet against him because he thought that I was fairly sharp in my action or whatever. So he told me a few sites and left it at that. He contacted me maybe a month into the season or something and said ‘If you want to bet really big, I’ve got a place for you’ and I said ‘Well, OK,’” Lindgren recalled. “And he put me into a place where I had a $2 million credit line and we settled at $500,000. I think I won three or four hundred the first week, so I was betting very big, $50K to $100K per game, and then I started losing and flipped that down to where I was stuck, I think I paid $400,000 once and $500,000 once. So I was down $900,000 to them. And then I lost I think another $2.3 million.”

That’s when trouble really began for Lindgren. Between that line of credit, action with other bookies and the big game at the Bellagio, Lindgren had lost roughly $6 million over a one-month span. His creditors came calling.

“I was in a really bad spot and I tried to gamble my way out of it, which we all know is not the way to go. And I buried myself pretty hard so I made some smaller payments via Neteller to the bookie and then I hit a patch where I couldn’t really pay much back and apparently Bob (Voulgaris) had to assume that debt. I don’t know his role in this but from then on I dealt with Bob,” Lindgren said.

Lindgren claims that after Voulgaris assumed the debt of $2.2 million, he made payments totaling roughly $1.4 million. Just as Voulgaris wrote, once Lindgren stopped receiving his dividends from Full Tilt Poker — upward of $250,000 per month — making payments on the debt became more difficult and stopped altogether. Lindgren last spoke with Voulgaris a few months after Black Friday. Asked if he has any plans to pay Voulgaris back, Lindgren hesitated before answering.

“I would like to make good on all of my debts,” said Lindgren, who admitted some hostility toward Voulgaris. “It’s probably safe to assume that he would be the last person I would deal with in the paying back of people. Bob has never been my favorite person and vice versa regardless of any money dealings we’ve had, but that being said, I do apologize and I am in the wrong.”

There was one more bit of news about Lindgren that Voulgaris would eventually share with everybody. Just prior to the 2012 WSOP, Voulgaris tweeted that he’d been informed that a poker player that owed him a significant sum of money was going to declare bankruptcy. The entire poker community rightly just assumed that player was Lindgren.

“Yeah, I’m in the process going through Chapter 7 bankruptcy,” Lindgren said. The process began back in June and actually delayed Lindgren from playing in any WSOP events until the paperwork was in order. The first event Lindgren played was Event No. 17 on June 8. “It entails listing all of the money I owe and all of the people that owe me money and trying to come to a resolution with the trustee in the case. We’ll see what happens.”

Lindgren’s story took another major twist in October when Howard Lederer sat down with PokerNews for his first post-Black Friday interview. A little more than halfway through the interview Lederer brought up Lindgren and a loan he had taken from fellow Full Tilt Poker board member Chris Ferguson for $2 million shortly before Black Friday. Ferguson mistakenly sent the $2 million twice — once via player-to-player transfer on Full Tilt Poker and a second time via bank wire.

Lindgren kept the extra $2 million.

“Loans were a nature of how Full Tilt was doing things. There wasn’t always a ton of communication on these loans. It was just the culture of how things were done,” Lindgren said. “It was made, I think, about a week before Black Friday. When (Full Tilt) was indicted and things were going downhill, I didn’t really know what to do with it. I had approached Chris Ferguson (for a loan) and as far as I knew it was a loan from Chris.”

Erick LindgrenLindgren contends that loans like his were fairly common amongst Full Tilt pros and this wasn’t the first one he’d received. In fact, Ferguson was holding one of the three percentage points of Full Tilt Poker that Lindgren owned as collateral against a previous loan and was pocketing the $85,000 monthly dividend it was producing.

“These loans were two-fold; they gave us loans because our compensation was never up for discussion. I know we made a lot of money, but in terms of the player side, they kept that the same, and they also didn’t want us to sell the shares outside of the company,” said Lindgren, who valued each of his three percentage points at $10 million to $15 million each prior to Black Friday. “I was always discouraged from selling my shares outside of the company and it was basically understood that Chris would take care of any financial needs we had. I was looking to pay off some debts and have a bankroll for the World Series so that’s why I asked Chris for a loan.”

Lindgren and Ferguson talked two weeks after Black Friday and agreed to meet again to discuss the outstanding debt but that second meeting never happened.

“I saw Chris at one meeting where all the Full Tilt Poker people got together that summer and that’s the one time I’ve seen Chris since Black Friday,” Lindgren said. “We discussed all the money, but I don’t remember the details of our conversation.”

That debt didn’t go away when Full Tilt Poker was acquired by PokerStars but Lindgren won’t be paying it back to Ferguson either. Lindgren’s debt was part of the purchase and he now owes the money to the online poker giant.

“My debt to Full Tilt was listed as $2.4 million and now Stars holds that debt,” said Lindgren, who lists his current total debts at around $3 million. He insists he’ll clear that debt and claims it was something that would have been taken care of had the DOJ not shut down online poker.

“I think that a lot of people don’t realize that since 2004, I’ve paid back, before I ever got a Full Tilt payment, I had paid back over $3 million in debt, I was probably $6 million in debt in ’04 and I paid about $3 million and then at various times I lost a lot of money in golf or sports,” said Lindgren. “I took some hits and I was probably at my worst about $10 million in debt. Going in to Black Friday I think I had it down under $2 million.”

Life since Black Friday has been anything but easy for the Lindgren family. In the weeks and months that followed the DOJ shutdown of online poker, Lindgren got involved in trying to save Full Tilt Poker and in the summer of ’11 he was asked to lead a charge to oust the board of Lederer, Ray Bitar and Chris Ferguson in hopes of finding a buyer to pay back all players and leave the initial investors with something to show for their investment.

Hearing rumblings that PokerStars may actually have an interest in bailing out Full Tilt Poker prior to the start of the 2011 WSOP, Lindgren claims he brought the idea up during a conference call with the board and other FTP shareholders.

“Howard and (the board) thought that Stars was the enemy and when I asked on a conference call ‘Have we asked PokerStars, if they wanted to do something?’, multiple people started laughing and they said ‘Don’t you know that PokerStars is our enemy and that Isai is indicted?’ — not caring that they were indicted under the same circumstances,” Lindgren said. “I think there was some level of competitive hatred between Chris, Ray and Howard and (PokerStars owner) Isai (Scheinberg). I feel like there was some barrier there but I think Isai had leaked out through other sources that he was interested because with Full Tilt not paying people back, it was bad for the whole industry. I think Isai saw there was still some value to the asset. He saw that he could fix a lot of problems and could come out making money.”

“There were rumors that PokerStars wanted to acquire Full Tilt at that time and there were also a couple of other guys had potential buyers that it didn’t seem like our board was talking to them. A lot of chaos was going on and it became pretty clear that something had to be done — we had to find a buyer, or bridge loan or whatever it took to get Full Tilt on solid ground,” Lindgren said. “It just felt like the board wasn’t getting it done. One of the FTP owners came to me and asked me to try to get everybody together. It made sense to me to try to overthrow the board. They were a big reason we were where we were, if not the biggest reason, and they were super inexperienced.”

“They had never raised this kind of money before in any regard. So we tried to overthrow the board. We actually had enough votes to do it and then a couple of guys flipped back the other way and that left the board as it was still in power,” said Lindgren, whose group of dissenters included Jennifer Harman, Perry Friedman and Phil Gordon.

Lindgren believes his decision to try and have Lederer, Bitar and Ferguson removed from power is the reason that Lederer put Lindgren on blast in the Lederer Files and he believes it was Lederer who convinced a few key stakeholders to flip at the last minute keeping the board intact. History shows that the board couldn’t find a buyer or a loan and the company’s assets were eventually seized by the DOJ and sold to PokerStars for $547 million. Lindgren and the shareholders got nothing and American players are still waiting to get paid.

“I was just trying to rally everybody together to meet and address the situation. If it took getting the board removed, I didn’t want to go through this and say I didn’t try to find funding or help out, because the board just let us sit there and do nothing,” Lindgren said.

Prior to Black Friday, Lindgren and Schoenberg found out they were expecting their first child and the two were married in early June 2011. The first 18 months of married life can be challenging for any couple but the collapse of Full Tilt Poker and the mounting sports betting losses Lindgren was accruing took an emotional toll on the couple. Last January, Lindgren sat down with his wife and came clean about the extent of his losses from football season.

“She knew most everything well in advance and then details of me going off last year, I kinda held back from her until basically everything came to light in January,” said Lindgren, who said everyday bills became tough to pay by late February, early March. “She knew we weren’t doing well at the time but she didn’t know it was that bad.”

“Erica’s been incredibly strong through all of this and she’s believed in me but at the same time I’ve been very obsessed with working and getting our finances back in the order that we’re used to and that we’re accustomed to. It’s been a high stress environment but we’ve been very good considering everything that’s gone down.”

Early in 2013, Lindgren will move his family back to Las Vegas so he can continue to rebuild his bankroll in the cash games and tournaments that Sin City has to offer.

“I don’t really have a bankroll. We live month to month pretty much. I’ve been staked in poker and some sports (betting) to try and raise some money and we’ve made enough to keep up with bills and stuff but we haven’t made enough headway yet,” said Lindgren, who was living in San Diego before checking in to Morningside. He has a staking arrangement that gets him in to any tournaments he wants to enter and plans on looking for another backer to get him in to some of the cash games in Las Vegas.

“I want to compete at the highest levels. I’m not going to chase the tournament circuit as hard as I once did. I’ve got a son, I’ve got a family. But I want to play tournaments, I want to play cash games and be as successful as I can be and we’ll see what that is.”

January 2013