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.
Michael ‘Gags30’ Gagliano proves the possibility
PocketFives ran an interview and profile of Michael ‘Gags30’ Gagliano. Known locally just as Gags, he is 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.”
Of course, perhaps the most famous New Jersey poker player is 2017 World Champion Scott Blumstein. The then-24-year-old won $8.15 million when he outlasted 7,220 other players in the world’s most famous tournament.
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. The addition of the Keystone State and its population of 12.8 million will cause the state regulated online poker market in the US to double.
To that end, PokerStars has said that it planned to launch in Q1 2019, depending on regulatory approvals. The worldwide online poker leader already has its approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
888, partypoker, and WSOP are also readying for a Q1 2019 launch. So, there should be several options for PA players to go online.
Pennsylvania laws also allow for interstate compacts. This fact is music to the ears of all poker playing states because of the rather shallow player pool.
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, and it is struggling to do so.
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.”
Unfortunately, the Department of Justice‘s recent opinion about the applicability of the Wire Act has cast doubt on the longterm survival of the multi-state compact. Still, with the attorneys general of Pennsylvania and New Jersey already rebuking the DOJ, hope is by no means lost.
So, for right now, the online poker pro is a rare bird in the US. Hopefully, Pennsylvania’s new market will help preserve it from extinction.