NCUA On Gambling-Backed CU: This Was Not A Credit Union
WASHINGTON – The CEO of tiny Vensure FCU on Wednesday insisted to a federal judge that his credit union has an affirmative plan to exit the bet processing business and offer loans and deposits like a traditional credit union.
But NCUA officials, pointing to the millions of dollars in fees the credit union earned processing online poker bets, said they doubt the promises and took the Mesa, Ariz., credit union over April 15 because it is not a viable business without the processing revenue.
Vensure is on pace to earn $4 million this year handling poker bets for its largest depositor Trinity Global Commerce, which processes bets for the two biggest online poker sites, PokerStars.com and FullTiltPoker.com. With no loans on its books, that amounts to 99% of its income.
“This is not a credit union, as far as serving members,” Elizabeth Whitehead, director of NCUA’s Region Five told federal Judge Rosemary Collyer during yesterday’s hearing on the validity of the NCUA takeover. “It was basically serving Trinity Capital.
NCUA said it acted to take the credit union under conservatorship hours after the U.S. Justice Department charged 11 international figures with violating federal gambling laws and froze $3 billion of their funds in some three dozen financial institutions, including the Trinity account at Vensure. The agency, which had been struggling with the credit union’s business for some time, feared the government will not only seize the $2 million in the Trinity account, but seek seizure of the fees the credit union earned from the illegal gambling activity – so-called claw back, according to Whitehead. That would render the credit union insolvent.
Most of the funds in Vensure, which had 33% net worth – about $1.6 million – when NCUA took it over, have already been dissipated since the conservatorship. The credit union’s net worth stood at just 4.5%, or just $212,000, on Tuesday, according to Whitehead. That’s because high overhead without the lucrative processing revenues are spending down the credit unions capital. “It’s going to be insolvent in a couple of weeks,” said Whitehead.
In addition, the credit union’s largest depositor, a board member, withdrew $600,000 since the NCUA takeover, creating what Whitehead called a “run on shares.”
John Iorello, CEO of Vensure, told the judge the credit union has put together a comprehensive plan to offer traditional credit union services after it exits the bet processing business. He said it has been offering Internet banking and electronic bill payment services for the past few months and have one loan application pending. To facilitate the plan, said the CEO, Vensure has purchased and implemented software programs, trained staff and conferred with NCUA examiners.
But NCUA’s Whitehead said the credit union agency doubted the seriousness of the business plan. “We have allowed this credit union months to become a legitimate credit union before we did the conservatorship,” she said.
Vensure’s Iorello countered by saying it has given Trinity a 180 days notice of termination of the company’s processing agreement. But he did not mention that in the letter to NCUA it says the termination will only be completed if it is definitively determined that the processing of online poker bets is illegal.
Throughout the hearing both sides debated the legality of the credit union’s processing of Internet bets. NCUA asserted that the practice is illegal under the Uniform Internet Gambling Act. “We are fairly certain that this is an illegal activity,” said Whitehead.
The credit union insists online bets are legal in several states so processing them is a legal practice.