"U.S. Alleges Full Tilt Poker is a Ponzi Scheme" was a common headline not long ago. See here for an example.
In the Oct. 24 issue of The Poker Player, columnist and expert on gaming law I. Nelson Rose disagrees. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Full Tilt was worried about the U.S. Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act, so it used money from players in other countries to pay off American winners. Even if true, this has nothing to do with a pyramid scheme. Rose says the DoJ used the Ponzi scheme phrase to bring attention to the situation -- hype, in other words. Nelson adds that Full Tilt actually ran a real business and made profits raking pots.
Even though Full Tilt wasn't a Ponzi scheme, Rose did have some choice words for the Full Tilt owners.
"Full Tilt's insiders were greedy and stupid. While the company was losing players, they continued to pay themselves tens of millions of dollars, including, allegedly, funds they had promised players would not be used for operating expenses. Insiders, including poker-pros Howard Lederer and Christopher Ferguson, allegedly took out $443 million in the last four years.
"Greedy and stupid, but not necessarily a crime...Not every company that loses customers' money through incompetence is guilty of a crime."
It seems to me that if you take money that you are supposed to pay to people, that's stealing, but what do I know?
You can read the full text of Rose's article if you click here.