Bryan Micon is having a tough month.
The co-founder and chairman of the now-defunct bitcoin poker site Seals with Clubs has been the subject of conspiracy theories and fraud accusations after the business abruptly shut down earlier this month.
The Seals with Clubs website was later updated with a message that reads, in part:
Effective immediately, SealsWithClubs will cease providing Bitcoin poker and will be shutting down all operations except to allow player funds to be withdrawn for a limited period of time. SealsWithClubs is, and has been, completely solvent up to this point in operations.
WE URGE ALL PLAYERS TO WITHDRAW THEIR FUNDS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. PLAYERS SHOULD CEASE ALL ACTIVITY TO THEIR ACCOUNT DEPOSIT ADDRESSSES NOW.
On approximately February 11th, 2015, several events occurred related to operational security that we consider to indicate SealsWithClubs now operates in a perpetual state of jeopardy. We will not divulge details publically, but they may come to light if any team member chooses to come forward of their own volition at a later date. All player funds and data remain intact and the issue was not software related. We do not believe any of our Bitcoin wallets used in operations to be compromised or lost. However, this event has made the majority vote of the ownership and team agree that shutting down operations is the best move for safety and security purposes.
SealsWithClubs Chairman, Bryan Micon, would like to carry forward the business with his own team (currently settling in Antigua) but the majority ownership cannot guarantee the future security, solvency, and integrity of that operation because there will be no administrative oversight carried over from SealsWithClubs.
Unsurprisingly, the cryptic nature of the above statement left users and bitcoin enthusiasts fearing the worst – another fraud or high-profile failure of a prominent bitcoin company.
Micon shared more details via a recent YouTube video published on February 21, but it’s unclear if viewers should be relieved or more concerned than ever. Micon claims that he was ripped from his family home at gunpoint by 10 officers serving a Nevada Gaming Commission warrant during the early morning hours of February 11. Micon details an ordeal which saw him handcuffed and left in his front yard for eight hours while wearing only his underwear, as police searched his home. The incident took place in front of his wife and two-year-old daughter.
In many ways the most surprising thing about this incident is that Micon was not charged with any crime. After the traumatic ordeal he was let go, with the only action taken by the police being to confiscate his electronic devices – a non-trivial inconvenience for Micon, who is also a professional poker player and an independent journalist. Micon adds that the men in his home were “very familiar” with his social media activity and his editorial work.
It was immediately following this incident, Micon claims, that his Seals with Clubs co-founders chose to abandon the project, outvoting him three-to-one. The implication is that they hoped to avoid a similar fate, but it also raises the question whether there’s more to the story than Micon shares. With Seals with Clubs having ceased operations, Micon says in his video:
“The rest of the Seals with Clubs management team quit. They do not want to continue after this and I do, so Seals with Clubs will continue to wind down and cashouts will continue to be processed.”
In another odd (and potentially unrelated) bit of news, Micon states that one of Seals with Clubs’ international servers, hosted by Romania’s Voxility, suffered an irregularity during the raid.
“The system is, of course, very secure and has thwarted hacking attempts in the past, so it is unclear to me from a technical perspective what went down.”
Conspiracy theories abound. Was Seals with Clubs the victim of a hacking attempt or is Micon now attempting to cover his and his co-founders tracks following some sort of fraud? Until the company cashes out all player deposits and until law enforcement reveals the details of its investigation, it will be difficult to answer those questions. Seals with Clubs has faced controversy before, as its database was hacked in December 2013, compromising 42,000 passwords. Of this latest incident, Micon adds that “math does not bow to guns” and “all [of Seals with Clubs’] bitcoins were saved.”
Unsurprisingly, Micon was noticeably shaken by the incident which he describes as “a symptom of a police state.” Regardless of any wrongdoing, actual or perceived, a violent home raid of a seemingly cooperative man in front of his family seems a bit overzealous and unnecessary. Micon even suggests that police should have knocked or called him ahead of time, rather than raiding his home.
“Even if the State wanted to take action against me, even if they wanted to take all my electronics as they did, a raid like that one was completely unnecessary,” Micon says. “It’s easy to tell that I am not the kind of person that you need a raid like that for, and it’s pretty well known that I am non-violent man.”
Micon explains in the video, which appears to be recorded in a tropical location, that his family was planning an extended vacation to Antigua that happened to be scheduled soon after the above incident. His only plans were to “to relax, play some online poker, explore some business ideas,” he says. If true, this is a highly convenient coincidence. But from the outside, it leaves Micon looking like a man fleeing what he expects to be continued legal troubles. Nevertheless, fearing for the safety of his family, he says that he decided not to wait any longer:
“I didn’t really want my 2-year-old daughter, who I love very much, to grow up in a police state where creativity is often met with guns. That’s not the environment I think is proper for my daughter. It’s not what I want to teach her is proper.”
While this seems like the end for Seals with Guns, Micon is planning to start a successor site called SWCpoker, with a new team and based (for obvious reasons) in Antigua. Whether Micon will be asked (or forced) to return to the US to deal with any legal issues remains to be seen.
Both online poker and crypto-currencies have long, checkered histories of running afoul of US laws. That Seals with Clubs would meet a similar fate is unsurprising, and hardly indicates that the business was in any way a fraud. But Micon’s home invasion saga has more in common with a Hollywood blockbuster than with the reality of most unsuspecting small business owners. One has to wonder whether this smoke is a sign that there’s fire nearby.