When the U.S. Department of Justice shut down Poker Stars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker in April of 2011, the majority of America’s poker players found themselves with no place to play on the Internet. Not surprisingly, some tried masking their IP addresses with Virtual Private Networks to regain access to their favorite sites. When that failed, more than a few decided to leave the country.
Daniel Negreanu was among the first to announce his departure. “The U.S. government has just basically said this is no longer a free country when it comes to poker,” said the three-time WSOP bracelet winner, “I think people don’t have a choice; they have to move out of this country.” The native Canadian returned to his hometown, Toronto, in June and soon resumed playing on PokerStars web site.
Heading for the Border
More than a few poker pros heeded Kid Poker’s words. Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond, who had won more than $7.8 million playing of Full Tilt before Black Friday, put his palatial New York condo on the market and fled to Vancouver in July. “Canada is good luck,” the 2008 WSOP bracelet winner posted on his blog. “I’ve been in full grind mode since I’ve gotten setup in Vancouver … running pretty hot, which has been a nice welcome back to online poker.”
Others to make the trek north out of the United States were Olivier Busquet, Cole South, EPT-winner Kevin “ImaLuckSac” MacPhee, Jon Agular, Mike Brooks, Andrew “Foucault” Brokos, Gavin Hastings and Ben “Sauce123” Sulsky. The exodus across the border also included two-time NAPT Mohegan Sun winner Vanessa Selbst, who upon relocation tweeted to her fans, “Landed in Toronto. They have totally different money here. Who knew?!?”
But not every would-be immigrant has been received by America’s northern neighbor with open arms. Professional high-stakes online player Daniel “Jungleman” Cates discovered the hard way that Canada has been cracking down and sending U.S. poker players back south of the border.
Cates reported via twitter to his followers: “In a ridiculous twist, I have been deported from Canada for being an illegal immigrant…” Apparently, Cates was “missing some papers,” so he quickly made plans to head for Portugal, where he is due to set up a new life with friends José “Girah” Macedo and Haseeb “Dogishead” Quereshi.
Relocating the Refugees
Finding a new home is not simply a matter of hopping on a boat, plane or train, however. The country of relocation must be a place where poker is legal and it is relatively easy for poker players to pursue their livelihood. To help them, Cal Spears and Adam Small of Pocket Fives Poker Forum, started a service called “Poker Refugees.”
For a $1,000 flat fee, Poker Refugees helps an online poker player find a place to live, make travel plans, acquire a visa and get a local bank account. Amongst the most popular destinations besides Canada are Panama and Costa Rica. Real estate agent Kristin Wilson assists with moves to the latter. “It’s not an easy process,” says Spears, “but she has a ton of experience with it and gives them an easy way to relocate.”
Relocation even further from America’s borders was the choice of Las Vegas resident Justin Bonomo. The pro decided to take his multi-million-dollar poker talents to the tiny island of Malta in the Mediterranean. Living there, he explained, puts him in close proximity to the various European tournaments. Another perk he noted was “low taxes.”
Poker Refugees note that other possibilities include the United Kingdom and Australia, English-speaking regions that are also accepting of poker pros. But perhaps the key factor at the top of the list when choosing a new home for online poker play is the availability of top-notch Internet service. The experience of professional online poker player Matt Stout in Costa Rica, where thunderstorms have been known to knock out connectivity for entire days, serves as a caution.
“Frequent power/Internet issues and the failure of battery backups and air cards I’d purchased … have created a lot of stress and some shortened sessions,” Stout explains. “I’m used to dealing with bad beats, but I still can’t keep myself from tilting when I time out on hands, blind out, and lose time banks while I can’t get back online.”