Online Poker Kings Get Cashed Out

Killing livelihoods and a $2.5 billion industry, the feds attack Internet gambling

"I figured if gambling online is illegal, I might as well go to legalized gambling in the form of the stock market," Fritz says, laughing. A friend had gone to a Wall Street firm and "just blew the doors off, and he said what he learned in poker really helped him. They were like, 'Well, we need to hire more poker players.'"

For Michael LaTour, the game was a way out of unemployment. The Syracuse man landed a job out of college selling mortgages and personal loans for American General Financial. But a year later, spectacularly inept bets by American's parent company, AIG, put him back on his ass.

"There weren't many jobs out there, and I'd been on unemployment for a while," LaTour says. "I saw some people being successful at poker, and I decided if I was ever going to seriously take a shot at it, now would be the time to do so."

Before the government crackdown on online gambling, Maxwell Fritz made $100,000 over 18 months of playing—all while still attending Princeton.
Photograph by Will Rice
Before the government crackdown on online gambling, Maxwell Fritz made $100,000 over 18 months of playing—all while still attending Princeton.
Vanessa Peng moved to Canada to gamble online after it became illegal in the States.
Courtesy of Vanessa Peng
Vanessa Peng moved to Canada to gamble online after it became illegal in the States.

LaTour played for two years, earning $50,000 in 2010. Averaging $10,000 a month for 2011, he was doing much better last year, until the feds came calling. Suddenly, the $35,000 in his PokerStars account was seized.

"The days after, it was really a panic," LaTour says. "Nobody knew what was going on. It's been draining emotionally."

If he and his girlfriend hadn't bought a house, LaTour might have gone to Canada. Instead, he has taken the Syracuse police-officer exam, but the academy doesn't offer classes until April. Two years after pulling himself off unemployment by his wits, he's back to searching for a job.

"This isn't something I wanted to do my entire life, but the money was out there, and it made more sense than any entry-level job just because of the potential to win such huge amounts of money," LaTour says.

Players weren't the only ones thrown out of work. The feds blew up an entire industry. In 2003, Michael Minkoff started a business that handled the shipping of poker books and videos sold on websites. His Las Vegas company also did freelance video production. It was a modest affair, employing three people and a passel of part-time help.

Then came the stealth attack by Frist and Kyl in 2006. Hurling little guys like Minkoff to the side of the road, sites began closing and paring costs. Black Friday nearly finished him. At his peak, he moved more than a thousand books a month. Now, he sells less than 50, hardly enough to employ himself part-time.

The feds launched an even bigger hit on the television industry. The list of canceled shows since April is long. Poker After Dark, the late-night show on NBC, was canceled abruptly after four years when the feds called its sponsor, Full Tilt, a Ponzi scheme. High Stakes Poker ended a six-year run on the Game Show Network in December. The National Heads-Up Poker Championship, also on NBC, collapsed in October after seven years. In April, Fox pulled PokerStars Big Game and PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge prior to their second seasons.

According to Kantar Media, Full Tilt and PokerStars spent $26 million in TV advertising last year; PokerStars spent another $8.3 million on Web and magazine ads. In one fell swoop, the feds made it disappear.

Although the feds wiped out the major American sites, a few remain, most notably Bovada and Merge Gaming Network.

The volume is much lower, and it's difficult to get paid. All have severe restrictions on how much and how often you can withdraw from your account. Merge only allows players to withdraw up to $2,500 once every six to eight weeks. And many are finding it difficult to add money to their accounts, since credit-card companies will often reject the transaction.

After Black Friday, Wright started playing on Merge just to salve nerves made raw by an empty wallet and a squealing baby. He and his wife went to Florida for a live World Poker Tour event, but he didn't play well. When they returned to North Carolina, they didn't even have enough money to get their dogs out of the kennel.

With their marriage stretched to its breaking point, Wright went to Costa Rica just before Thanksgiving. A friend agreed to front him a roll, pay his airfare, and cover his rent for a few months.

Costa Rica has become a magnet for Americans. Wright lives in an apartment complex with other online players. The country's tourist-friendly economy makes it a logical landing spot for those like Wright, who has a DUI and, subsequently, isn't allowed into Canada. Since Black Friday, companies such as Poker Refugees have sprung up to help players gets visas, bank accounts, and apartments in Costa Rica.

But there remains a larger question: Why are the feds chasing honest, taxpaying citizens out of the country? Especially for something as benign as playing cards, an act committed by nearly every American?

Congressman Barney Frank denounced the crackdown as an "incredible waste of resources" and wondered why the feds felt compelled to protect "the public from the scourge of inside straights."

After all, for most of the country's estimated 2 million online players, poker is little more than recreation. And those who made their living from it seemed to personify the American spirit, providing for their families by creating livelihoods from their wits.

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19 comments
leillin.travertski
leillin.travertski

Who knew that one could make poker online a steady full time job.  At least wright was able to use his skill and earn a decent living.  

-Ms.Leillin

meruja owo
meruja owo

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Play online casino
Play online casino

One of my friends has made the $836 on just the two days that's why Online Poker is the booming game for them who are contributing for making money at there.

AA
AA

Payo Pow, You are a fool. There is a world of difference between probabilities and "fixes", and it's people like you that effectively pay out to those who understand it.

I suppose you could call that a fix, or alternatively a wealth transfer from the stupid to the clever.

Payo Pow
Payo Pow

Everyone know's that Poker it's a fix game. However, ppl should have the right to throw away the few pennies they might have in their bank account even if its through gambling.

Uu
Uu

Stop the insanity. Let people and businesses transact business. And online gambling is a business.

twolaneflash
twolaneflash

Gambling is not a business, it's a drug, just as deadly as meth to some people. There's a good reason its called "Lost Wages", NV - they didn't build those gambling palaces on winners! Online gambling is just main-lining the drug directly to the brain, eliminating the competition for the addicts' money from the travel industry, hotel and restaurant businesses, and tourism-related benefactors of people seeking their fix, often at the expense of family and others. I'm glad Congress made a stand. Want your drug? Go to the desert.

missing_poker
missing_poker

Online poker is an entertainment option for many just as going to the movies. Whether someone chooses to blow $20 at @ the cineplex or online (with the chance of winning or breaking even) should be person preference. 90% of online players were casual player at .05-.10 or lower stakes.

This is very much a personal liberty issue.

Twiz1986
Twiz1986

This is a terrific article that highlights the rise and fall of online poker in America. The truth is this is just another example of what a joke it is to call America "the land of the free". We pretend to live in the worlds greatest democracy but ever since Sept. 11, 2001 we've allowed our government to seize more and more control of our rights and freedoms.It's happened slowly over time so most of us don't even bat an eye when we are violated at an airport or our television shows are censured. When you look at why our economy has struggled over the last decade and we don't have the spirit and drive we use to because we are now being controlled by the wealthy few who have the power, money and influence to mold our country in a way that benefits only their agenda. Until we as citizens stand up and demand that our freedom and liberty be returned to us we shouldn't be surprised that stories like these will continue to occur in the so called land of the free! Until we wake up with our eyes wide open there will continue to be an assault on the truths that we use to associate with being an American. Finally to Gospace's comments below, you are absolutely right that this article doesn't highlight the millions of dollars lost and the families effected by online poker but couldn't you say the same about casino gaming, drug addiction, criminals?? How can take away the freedoms of all to protect those who can't control themselves. If the people you speak of can't handle their gaming addiction shouldn't they take responsibility for their own actions? Is online gaming responsible for their losses? Were they forced to play? Where do we draw the line? If you are old enough to be sent to foreign lands to fight for this country then you should be old enough to decide if you want to participate in online gaming and old enough to know when to stop.

Gospace
Gospace

Great job of showing the gambling success stories. But-and this is a big but- unlike retailing, trading, producing, farming, where value is added and wealth is produced, gambling is a zero-sum game- and less. For teh casino/online-poker/whoever operator skims a profit off the top. Money does indeed exchange hands, but no value is added, nothing is produced.

Where's the article showing all the people who have lost heir houses, their jobs, their wives and kids because they lost all their money to easy access gambling? That;s the flip side of the story.

BustyVeronica213
BustyVeronica213

my roomate's sister brought home $19257 last week. she is making an income on the computer and got a $313300 house. All she did was get lucky and put into use the advice reported on this site www.CashMany. com

Marine52
Marine52

Disgusting that even the Commies in northern Korea and mainland China could gamble online while former soldiers like me have to shepherd bigasses in gated communities.

Mormovies
Mormovies

Our country sucks!! More freedom, not less!! Vote all the bastards out of office now!!!

Sheryl J
Sheryl J

Thanks for this informative article about online poker and what the government did to it. An entire industry was destroyed last year. This is the first article that really illustrates the situation. We need federal legislation that licenses and regulates online poker in the U.S. and brings back an industry.

mysue20
mysue20

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http://cashhuge.com

my co-worker's mother made $20302 last week. she is getting paid on the laptop and moved in a $397900 condo. All she did was get fortunate and put into use the steps laid out on that site top of this comment

Davidseawa
Davidseawa

It's poker, moron. You don't play against the house, you play against other people.

David
David

The people that are complaining are the people jealous !!! I understand you envy us...We are in our PJ's with no boss in front of our computers playing Poker and making more money then you . I understand ... I'm home more with my wife and kids.Your out working 40 + a week and probably working weekends. I'm sorry your mad about ONLINE POKER ! It's a skilled game, remember that ! Stop crying and let it be. There's more and bigger things in the world to worry about .

 
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