A lot of things can happen in one year, especially in the volatile online gambling industry. The sudden closure of four major online poker sites in the United States one year ago on April 15, 2011, otherwise known as “Black Friday”, shocked millions of online poker players and changed the online poker industry forever.
While American poker enthusiasts were outraged that they could no longer recreationally play poker online at their favorite sites, American poker pros were faced with a whole other scenario– can they still make a living playing poker?
One year later the general poker economy within the United States is still relatively healthy, however the options for playing online continue to decline. All American poker pros- live tournament players, online poker grinders and mixtures of both- have had to accept some changes if they want to continue generating a decent income from playing the game that they love.
Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari is a poker pro known for his live tournament play and charming TV personality. Esfandiari resides in the United States and continues to play live tournaments without much change in his lifestyle over the past year, except he is minus one thing…a sponsorship.
“The aftermath of Black Friday has not really affected me on a personal level because I am mostly an offline player. However, it has affected me as a player in the industry because it has changed the poker industry in general and there are now very limited possibilities for sponsorship deals,” Esfandiari said.
For players who had plenty of cash in the bank post Black Friday such as Esfandiari, temporarily playing without a sponsorship is not a serious problem but more of an inconvenience. In fact, these types of players will likely scoop up amazing deals once online poker is finally regulated in the US.
“I do think everything is going to pan out for the best though with regulation in the US on its way, which of course comes along with all the sponsorship dollars. I’m excited to be on the receiving end of that,” Esfandiari said.
On the other hand, the American poker pros who play quite a bit online and can be defined as “grinders” have had a lot more difficulty finding their feet over the past year.
“Black Friday meant cut-backs throughout the poker community. It shrank the size of the poker economy. It took out hundreds of thousands of recreational online players. The games shrank in size. In essence, the top tourney grinders are taking pay-cuts in excess of 6 figures and many mid and low stakes grinders have been forced out of work,” says McLean Karr, an American poker pro who has earned approximately half of his tournament winnings online.
Seeing as the online poker options for American players in the United States have become less and less attractive for grinders over the past year, Karr had to take start traveling to play in more live tournaments and make his living.
“[The aftermath of Black Friday has made] live high-stakes tournaments more attractive, leading to greater variance and life on the road. I have spent most of post Black Friday playing live around the world, only to return to Vegas for the WSOP, LAPC, Bay 101 and holidays. The poker economy is still growing, but it may still take some time to recoup the American market, “ Karr said.
There is no doubt that the American poker market in general has suffered from Black Friday – if there are limited online poker options for American players, the live tournament play in the homeland will feel the effects as well.
Joe Reitman, an American actor, producer and former Full Tilt Pro, was never a full time poker player but he is a popular poker personality who loved playing in live tournaments. Unlike Esfandiari, the aftermath of Black Friday has most certainly affected Reitman on a personal level- he no longer plays poker.
“I used to play online for at least an hour every day. Now I have not played online in about a year. As someone who doesn’t play poker as my main course of income it has caused me to get rusty. I don’t feel like driving to a casino to play on a regular basis, so when I get the chance to play live I don’t feel like my game is as sharp as it used to be”, Reitman told me.
For players such as Reitman, the lack of online poker options not only have a negative impact on their poker skill development, but it also prevents them from playing live as they don’t have the funds to buy into tournaments.
Reitman said, “I have not built the bankroll I need to play in as many events as I would like, so unless I go early to build my bankroll playing satellites and getting my game in the shape it needs to be, I am not sure how much time I will spend in Vegas at the WSOP this summer”.
It’s likely that Reitman is in good company when he debates if he should participate in the 2012 World Series of Poker, the “must attend” poker event for so many people before Black Friday.
Regardless of how the different American poker pros are affected by the aftermath of Black Friday, it’s pretty safe to say that every single one of them is pro online poker regulation in the United States. The good news is that some progress has been made over the past year but when and how the regulation will happen is still very much in the air. How do to deal with the situation in the meantime? Pros have to choose between driving to the card room, moving to another country or finding another career.