Should PokerStars Founder Isai Scheinberg Be In The Poker Hall Of Fame?

Dustin Gouker August 12, 2015 824 Reads
Scheinberg PokerStars Poker Hall of Fame

The World Series of Poker called for nominations for the Poker Hall of Fame last week, which sparked a debate about whether PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg belongs among poker’s elite.

The positives and negatives behind a Scheinberg nomination are basically a look at back at the history of online poker.

The case for Scheinberg: PokerStars changed poker forever

Terrence Chan, a former poker pro whose opinion still carries a lot of weight in the poker community, started the debate by putting up his case for Scheinberg in a post at the twoplustwo.com forums.

Here’s the crux of his argument:

In my opinion, if the man who has done more to grow poker than any other individual in the world in the past 20 years (at least) is not in the Poker HOF, it is illegitimate.

He then goes into PokerStars’, and Scheinberg’s, role in fostering the online poker market in the years after Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker main event and the ensuing “Moneymaker boom”:

PokerStars expanded into, and created, brand new markets where there were very few poker players. Prior to 2003 there was very little poker played in much of continental Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia.

We have all benefitted from the company that this man built. Some people reading this played online poker professionally, or made good money as serious semi-pros. Some made careers out of the poker industry in various ways (journalism, television, or working in b&m poker rooms).

But millions of others simply found a way to play a game they found enjoyable; a place where they could play any time, anywhere (until 2011), across myriad stakes, on an enjoyable software platform run by an attentive and professional team.

It’s hard to make an argument that PokerStars did not fundamentally change the world of poker forever. (Although it could, and has been done, if one argues PokerStars was just the leading operator out of many in the space).

And in turn, that would mean Scheinberg easily fits the bill for nomination and induction to the Hall of Fame.

From the nomination guidelines for the HoF:

The main criteria for the Poker Hall of Fame are as follows: …

Or, for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.

Chan’s call for Scheinberg’s induction isn’t the first time it’s been brought up as a possibility. He’s been suggested at BLUFF on multiple occasions, and poker author Russ Fox wrote an op-ed two years ago.

Lee Jones, another respected (albeit biased as a PokerStars employee) poker personality, is also onboard:

So, why shouldn’t he be in, if he was great for the world of poker?

The case against Scheinberg: He’s wanted in the U.S.

FlushDraw’s Haley Hintze offered the counterpoint to Chan’s call for Scheinberg’s induction. And it’s a pretty good one.

While Scheinberg undoubtedly did a lot of things to grow the game of poker, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It all starts with United States v. Scheinberg, the federal criminal case against the PokerStars founder that came out of 2011’s Black Friday for alleged violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

From Hintze:

However, the ongoing presence of the alleged US-bank-laws violations against Scheinberg and the old PokerStars is way too much for any serious US-based HOF consideration — not only at this time, but for the foreseeable future, probably several decades.

What did Scheinberg do that would prevent him from serious consideration by the Poker HOF? Isn’t it true that online poker was subsequently acknowledged to be okay to play by US citizens, per a DOJ opinion.  And isn’t it also true that online poker is all that PokerStars ever offered?

Yes, and yes, but the charges against Scheinberg and his company had more to do with the intentionally mislabeling of deposits and withdrawals of US players, through a shady series of third-party payment processors.

Whether you believe Scheinberg is guilty of anything is almost beside the point. He hasn’t come to the United States to face the charges, so it’s still an open case. Should the Poker Hall of Fame be inducting someone who could be arrested if he showed up for the ceremony?

And PokerStars, as Hintze notes, continued to take American players after the UIGEA was passed — along with several other operators — and the world of online poker still has to live with that decision.

Conclusion: In or out?

The Scheinberg case doesn’t seem terribly cut and dried on either side.

The Hall of Fame isn’t the “Hall Of The Best People In The History Of Poker.” Look at other halls of fame, especially in sports, and you can find some not-so-perfect people in them.

There is no actual “bad-actor clause” in the poker hall of fame nomination guidelines — although one could make an obvious case that it is implied that a nominee’s negative points need to be considered as well.

So, perhaps the answer to Scheinberg’s hall of fame case is both yes and no.

Yes it appears he should be in, eventually. But his induction would make a lot more sense after the charges against him in the United States are resolved.