With little fanfare, the tiny Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma launched the world’s first functional internet gaming website owned by a sovereign nation earlier this year.
After years of legal wrangling, the tribe’s website greysnowpoker.com quietly went live sometime this spring, without the aid of the enigmatic Florida entrepreneur who initially came up with the idea.
It was Fereidoun Khalilian— “Prince Fred” — or “Khalifa,” as he sometimes signs emails — who put the concept of a Native-owned poker website together. It was all his idea, even though the Iowa Tribe later changed the name of the venture, said his software didn’t work and now won’t take his phone calls, he says.
His original vision for the gaming website — called pokertribe.com — has been scrapped entirely.
“No matter whatever you want to say about me and whatever names you want to call me—I pulled it off,” Khalilian said. “They walked away with the concept, the help to do it, the entire process.”
Khalilian’s airy, modern home in Miami is furnished with white leather couches and a white baby grand piano overlooking the pool. His Instagram page includes photos of him sitting courtside at a Miami Heat game with a reality TV star, along with red-carpet shots of him posing with models, various minor celebrities and recording artists. But his two most constant companions have been two small, white fluffy dogs named Dolce and Gabbana that Khalilian refers to as his sons. Dolce died recently. Khalilian gets choked up talking about it.
Prince Fred’s past business ventures include a pink and purple-swathed Florida nightclub that featured regular appearances by Paris Hilton in the early 2000s that earned him regular mentions on TMZ.com and an extended auto warranty scheme halted by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010.
More than three years ago, Khalilian pitched the Iowa Tribe the idea of developing Pokertribe.com. With the website’s servers on tribal land near the Payne County town of Perkins, the Iowa tribe could legally operate the gaming website, offering live, real-money poker games all over the world. He told the tribe it could potentially make billions of dollars on the deal. But the project was plagued with delays and technical problems. Pokertribe.com was forced to push back its launch date multiple times.
The Iowa Tribe eventually dropped Khalilian’s software, the Pokertribe name, with all its baggage and negative publicity, and rebranded — without his help.
“They were slick — They got me out of the way and moved everything overseas,” Khalilian said.
The Iowa Tribe did not respond to multiple interview requests for this story.
A prince in exile
In July, Khalilian was ousted as chief operating officer of the Iowa Tribe’s business partner, California-based electronics company Monster Products Inc.
Monster is most well known as the original developer of Beats Headphones. In a tragic, short-sighted move, the company signed away the rights to the technology to Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. When Apple later bought Beats for $3 billion, Monster received nothing.
In 2017, at Khalilian’s urging, Monster purchased a 49 percent interest in Pokertribe.com for an undisclosed sum.
But Pokertribe.com continued to delay its launch date.
Monster did not publicly disclose Khalilian’s termination until Sept. 25, when said in a press release that it had obtained a restraining order in a California court against Khalilian for threats “of mutilation, death, and threats to family” against numerous Monster employees.
In court documents, Monster claims Khalilian used threats of physical violence, bullying and humiliation to try and wrest control of the company from 69-year old company founder Noel Lee, who suffers from debilitating nerve damage and cannot walk.
Khalilian became second-in command at Monster — and eventually its second-largest shareholder — by ingratiating himself to Lee and dazzling him with promises of big money to be made in Indian gaming, according to court documents.
“Noel was initially impressed with Mr. Khalilian, as he claimed to have the ability to bring Monster lucrative business, in particular with respect to online Indian gaming,” the company said in its petition for a restraining order.
But the partnership soon soured. Monster claims Khalilian would often brag the FBI had investigated him for killing a woman and chopping her into 20 pieces after she accused him of rape.
He also allegedly threatened to beat up one female employee and told her “if you weren’t a woman, I would cut off your legs.”
At a Las Vegas buffet, Khalilian allegedly told one of Noel Lee’s assistants “If Noel fucks me out of the company, I will kill him and turn myself in. This is the kind of shit that’s on CNN.”
Khalilian denies all this. He says he spent most of his time at the company working hard, trying to find new investors to save Monster. The company lacked a viable business strategy and was bleeding money.
He revered Noel Lee, he said.
“I treated the man like my father — I cherished him,” Khalilian said.
The woman he allegedly chopped into pieces and put into garbage bags is still alive.
“I told Noel she’s married with kids right now — look her up online,” he said.
Another tribe, a slightly different website
The Iowa wasn’t the first tribe Khalilian tried to launch a poker website with.
Khalilian is being sued by another Oklahoma tribe, the Concho-based Cheyenne and Arapaho, for an earlier, failed deal in 2013 to launch a poker venture called Pokertribes.com — notice the one-letter difference from Pokertribe.com.
In the lawsuit, filed in tribal court in 2017, the Cheyenne and Arapaho claim it paid Khalilian and his business partners $9.45 million for the gaming website, which was never fully functional. The Cheyenne and Arapaho claim in the lawsuit that Khalilian stole the gaming software from a former business partner and then sold it to the tribe.
The FBI and the National Indian Gaming Commission were investigating the matter at one time, but no criminal charges have been filed.
At its annual meeting this month, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Council will vote on a proposal to ask the Native American Rights Fund to explore suing several federal agencies for failing to take action against in the PokerTribes debacle and some of the tribe’s other past business deals.
“Millions was stolen from us and the federal agencies who have a federal trust responsibility to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators have done nothing,” the Tribal Council said in a Facebook post announcing the proposal. “We keep being told they are investigating but our patience is at an end. If these agencies are going to disregard what has been done to us then they should be held accountable for their inaction.”
The National Indian Gaming Commission would not confirm whether it continues to investigate Pokertribes.com, saying only that it “does not comment on pending, ongoing litigation or active investigations.”
From the ashes
The name of the Iowa Tribe’s new gaming website comes from the Tribe’s Iowa-language name — Baxoje — meaning “People of the Grey Snow.” According to tribal lore, the name comes from a time Ioway warriors returned to their village to find it burned to the ground, leaving nothing but ashes that looked like snow.
Greysnowpoker.com’s information page makes only brief reference to the tribe’s past problems with getting the venture off the ground.
“It hasn’t all been plain sailing,” the fledgling company said in an oddly-worded post in July. “Along with the positive milestones, there were also some less-than-positive things along the way – bad choice of website name, wrong software, among others.”
In response to The Frontier’s questions, Monster said it still working with the Iowa Tribe, but greysnowpoker.com is not affiliated with the company.
The website uses white-label software from a third-party vendor, Khalilian said.
It’s impossible to say how many real-money players Greysnowpoker.com hosts or how much money the website makes. The tribe’s gaming license from the Isle of Man allows it to offer real-money play in 67 countries, but the United States isn’t among them. Khalilian estimates the website takes in about $100,000 in gaming revenue a month, but The Frontier could not verify that claim.
From its web presence, Greysnowpoker.com does not appear to have the large number of active players that it would take to generate that amount of revenue.
In 2015, an arbitrator ruled that the Iowa’s online gaming venture would not violate federal or state law and falls under the Oklahoma Tribal-State Gaming Compact. Under the gaming compact, the tribe would be required to pay gaming exclusivity fees to the state on all revenue generated from the website’s servers on tribal land.
However, the state’s Gaming Compliance Unit cannot affirm or deny any amounts paid to the state based on confidentiality provisions in the gaming compact.
Khalilian said he sent an email to Gov. Mary Fallin earlier this year, asking her to look into the tribe’s gaming revenues from the website and whether the tribe was remitting exclusivity fees to the state.
Fallin’s office said it could find no record of any such email.
Greysnowpoker’s mailing address is in an office building in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man, just a few blocks away from the Irish Sea. It’s hiring developers in the Isle of Man and also a customer service representative in Malta or Canada.
The website’s terms and conditions state Greysnowpoker’s servers are located on the tribe’s sovereign land, regulated by the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma Gaming Commission.
“They were slick — they moved everything overseas and that’s going to give them another power to say ‘take a hike’ to the state of Oklahoma,” Khalilian said.