Hundreds, if not thousands of players who made their living online were suddenly faced with some brutal choices: play in the black market; move overseas; switch to playing live; or give up poker and get a real job.
The poker exodus saw players move to Mexico and Canada, often commuting back to their families at weekends. Some even moved to exotic and largely unregulated locales such as Argentina, Tunisia, Malta and the Lebanon.
Seven years on, and it’s finally OK to be an online poker pro in the US again—and it’s about to get easier.
New Jersey to the rescue
At 9 a.m. PST on Tuesday, April 30, 2013, Nevada-based Ultimate Poker dealt the first legally regulated hand of online poker played in the US since Black Friday. Sadly Ultimate Poker didn’t make it, but online poker continued in the hands of WSOP.com and its platform provider 888.
Well, that didn’t happen. Delaware’s laws were a bust, providing zero incentive for the three licensed racino operators to market the game. Other states failed to get the necessary legislative votes, leaving New Jersey as the only state with a large enough population to support a vibrant online poker community.
Hot competition between WSOP, 888, PartyPoker, Borgata Poker and PokerStars kept the New Jersey online poker dream alive. And kept at least one market where it was still possible to make a living online from the great American game.]
Michael ‘Gags30’ Gagliano proves the possibility
PocketFives ran an interview and profile of Michael ‘Gags30’ Gagliano, known locally just as Gags: an online poker pro who is also a Borgata ambassador. His August results have been particularly impressive:
“Those results include over $100,000 in cashes and six outright victories in August to date. He has two scores of $30,000 or more during the month and, in total, he has recorded 10 scores of four-figures or more in the month.”
Gags is a tournament pro, and he acknowledges the fact that life has got better now that New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada share player liquidity (at least on WSOP.com).
“Fields are larger and there’s more recreational players but there’s also more good players. So it’s like this weird combination where like, yea it’s larger but when you get deep in tournaments it tends to be tougher deeper because there’s more good players around.”
WSOP bracelets can now be won in New Jersey
Gags isn’t the only serious player in New Jersey. Matt Mendez grew up planning to win at the WSOP:
“At 12 years old, I thought I was going to win 20 bracelets, right? Sixteen, same thing. Twenty-one, now I can win a ton of bracelets. As 24, 25, 26 comes, you start thinking ‘If I’d won a few bracelets, I’d feel accomplished in my poker career.’”
He made a living on the live poker circuit for a while, but decided not to make the trip to Las Vegas for the 2018 WSOP. The shared player pool between New Jersey and Nevada meant that he could still pursue his bracelet dream without leaving his wife and kids.
And the dream came true. Mendez won the $565 Pot-Limit Omaha 6-Handed event played online at WSOP earning prize money of over $135,000 and the coveted bracelet.
Shared online poker liquidity across a distance of around 2,500 miles gave him his dream shot and he became the first player to win a main series WSOP event outside of Nevada. Mendez acknowledged the importance of the interstate compact that made it possible.
“And then poker changes with multistate poker. Because of that, I’m able to sit on my couch and have a couple opportunities from Jersey to win a bracelet.”
Pennsylvania is about to make online poker a whole lot larger
All the US poker news is focused on when online poker will launch in Pennsylvania. PokerStars said that it planned to launch in Q1 of 2019 depending on regulatory approvals. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has been working overtime to deal with the flood of applications it has had for the newly legalized online gaming, and Stars now has its approval.
PokerStars, through its partner the Mount Airy casino, should be ready to go early next year, but 888, partypoker, and WSOP will also be readying for an early launch.
Best news of all is that the Pennsylvania laws allow for interstate compacts. Delaware has a population of less than a million; Nevada has less than three million. New Jersey has had to do the heavy lifting to keep online poker alive with its population of 9 million.
Now Pennsylvania is coming on board and with its population of 12.8 million, the state regulated online poker market in the US is about to double.
Shared liquidity may take a little longer, but Pennsylvania players will end up as part of the larger player pool with New Jersey.
Gags told P5s what that would mean:
“Obviously growing prize pools and as the market gets bigger I think you’ll start seeing more things like Sit & Gos which used to be popular. You know, they run in New Jersey but they’re not super popular. I think those will start coming back as we just get more liquidity.”
The online poker pro may be a rare bird in the US, but Pennsylvania’s new laws will help preserve it from extinction. Who knows, maybe a few of the poker exiles in Mexico will come home too.