The Wolf of Online Processing

Posted by Ellis Shuman, February 27, 2014

Alligator BloodWhen they make the film version of Alligator Blood by James Leighton (Simon & Schuster UK, 2013), it is without a doubt that Leonardo DiCaprio will be cast in the role of Daniel Tzvetkoff, the whiz kid who built a fortune in online payment processing only to subsequently have his empire collapse and his reputation shatter.

"Take a look people," one of Tzvetkoff's business partners declares in the book. "This is what you get when you deliver…  Deliver for me and I’ll make you all fucking millionaires!"

That line could have been belted out by DiCaprio's character in the 2013 film "The Wolf of Wall Street".  In Leighton's tale of Tzvetkoff's rise and fall, the online processing genius is said to have read and been enthralled by Jordan Belfort's memoir, which led to the hit movie of the same name. "The parallels were obvious," Leighton writes.


High-risk Payment Processing

According to The Poker Encyclopedia, "alligator blood" describes a player "whose play is bold and aggressive." There is no denying that this description aptly fits high rolling Daniel Tzvetkoff, an Australian software developer who devised the optimal method for online payment processing just as customers were flocking to the Internet to make purchases and to play poker.

"The young gun now knew better than most how to go about getting credit card companies to process transactions on behalf of porn websites," Leighton writes. But unlike other online processors, Tzvetkoff's system had a comprehensive way to control fraud control.

"Daniel certainly hadn’t been the first to invent the technology," Leighton writes. "But he was one of the first in the high-risk payment processing industry to put it all together, and utilize it effectively."


Image of Daniel Tzvetkoff from the Casino Affiliate Programs website.

And "high risk" was the key description of Tzvetkoff's business, which partnered up with others to get a share of the vast sums of money being processed online by the poker companies.

"If an online poker operator was willing to take a risk then the rewards were plentiful, so long as they could find a way to process their players’ money. And with billions of dollars at stake, high-risk payment processors were lining up to help them out."


Processing for Online Poker Is Legal

The passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) only served to increase the risks involved. Although poker advocates contended that the law did not make it illegal to play online poker, "it effectively made it illegal for a gaming operator, who engaged in unlawful Internet gambling, to process the money it received from its players."

Tzvetkoff's lawyers told him that they were "convinced that processing for online poker is legal but we’ve been told to be careful."

Tzvetkoff searched for ways to process players' money, and considered buying a bank or setting up a business entity on an Indian reservation.

But even as the risks in his business threatened collapse at any moment, Tzvetkoff, much like the DiCaprio character in "The Wolf of Wall Street", insisted on having a good time. His lavish spending and partying were legendary, and the nightclub he opened in his hometown of Brisbane was considered the top venue in all of Australia. "The poker guys specifically told us that if we were going to work with them we had to keep a low profile!" Tzvetkoff was warned, but he continued to play his role as "the self-styled king of the party."


world champion of online payment processing

Parties have a habit of coming to an end, and so did Tzvetkoff's rocket ride to riches. His business partners turned on him and stole his company and his money right from under him. The U.S. Department of Justice, led by United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, targeted Tzvetkoff, and he was arrested in April 2010.

Instead of going to prison, Tzvetkoff opted to become a government informant, helping Bharara build the case for the Black Friday closure of online poker rooms. His reputation as the whiz kid millionaire changed overnight, as instead he was now considered "the guy many think almost brought all of this to an end," as stated by WSOP Media Director Nolan Dolla.


Alligator Blood Bound for Hollywood

Leighton's book is very readable, with dialogue and descriptions ready to adapt to a Hollywood script. Readers will come away with a very clear image of the person who once declared openly "I'm the world champion of processing."

It's not exactly clear why the author chose to veer away from Tzvetkoff's story to relate the tale of the Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet cheating scandals, ground already covered in detail in Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich.

It should be noted in this Alligator Blood book review that today Daniel Tzvetkoff is a pariah, on a witness protection program in New York. Although he was blamed by many for the collapse of online poker, the game is now transforming into a legalized pastime, with Nevada and Delaware agreeing to share player pools.  Leighton concludes his tale with a consideration of online poker's future.

"The first step forward must be legalizing online poker at a federal level," Leighton writes.

If that happens, the middlemen formerly known as high risk payment processors will gain a new respectability.

Author James Leighton is a professional writer from Cardiff, Wales. Alligator Blood is his fifth book.  While James is an avid fan of his local football team, Cardiff City, he also enjoys playing poker, watching Quentin Tarantino films, and anything to do with the Beatles.

Other recent book reviews to look for include Fading Hearts on the River by Brooks Haxton, How to Be a Poker Player by Haseeb Qureshi, and Poker Tilt by Dutch Boyd.

James Leighton



Further Reading:  

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Previous articles by Ellis Shuman:

Isaac Haxton - Poker Success of Brooks Haxton the Poet's Son

Poker and Philosophy: Thinking Your Way to Better Poker

The Greatest Poker Songs of All Time

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