For the younger poker players the day that is named “Black Friday” is a legend, a thing from the past that affected players and the industry a decade ago. For those that were already playing online poker or working in the industry, the 15th of April, 2011 revokes memories similar to those when witnessing a major catastrophe. Everybody knows where they were when they found out about Black Friday.
On that spring Friday the US government, more precisely the Department Of Justice, shut down all online poker in the biggest poker market in the world, the United States of America. From one moment to another millions of players could not access their accounts to play or withdraw funds.
In the history books
How it got to this moment is documented in a fascinating book, called “Alligator Blood”, written by James Leighton. The FBI was on the trail of the payment processing services that allowed players to deposit and withdraw from online gambling accounts and when they eventually caught up, it all led to the happenings of Black Friday.
Online gambling was banned from the United States and still today, 10 years later, it has not fully returned. Only a few states have legalized online gambling and handed out licenses. This could have all gone faster and more states could have come back with their own regulations, but things got slowed down by certain players in the U.S. market – namely the brick and mortar casino owners such as Sheldon Adelson.
PokerStars – the Robin Hood of poker
PokerStars could have returned to the market again faster and more widely, if it wasn’t for the pushback of their competitors. PokerStars was the company that had played it right throughout this drama and was capable of bringing online poker back, state by state. They were the ones who paid out players immediately and they eventually bought Full Tilt Poker, who had not been able to pay back their players.
Full Tilt Poker had not separated player funds from operational funds, paid themselves massive salaries, threw epic parties, and fed their staff with Michelin canteen food. When Black Friday hit, they had no way of accessing money to pay out their players and eventually had to shut down, owing millions of dollars to their former customers.
Eventually the PokerStars owners, Mark and Isai Scheinberg, had to make the tough decision to sell the company to AMAYA, in order to have a better standing with the U.S. government and so bring back poker to U.S. players. The publicly traded Canadian company AMAYA paid $4.9 billion for PokerStars and the former Robin Hood of poker ended up becoming a loathed business for making questionable decisions moving forward.
Nevertheless, PokerStars was able to move back into the U.S. market and now we are witnessing a slow progress through the States with more and more of them legalizing online poker and more and more licenses being handed out to poker companies such as partypoker, GGPoker, 888Poker and of course, PokerStars.
When Black Friday happened I was…
The social media channels are full of memories about Black Friday and there are also fascinating articles and videos online about this. There is a great interview with Isai Scheinberg about Black Friday, which can be found on PocketFives by Lance Bradley.
Robbie Strazynski is the founder of CardPlayerLifestyle.com and he also hosts the fascinating poker discussion videos named The Orbit on YouTube. A stellar group of guests, such as Eric Hollreiser (Former Executive at PokerStars) and Mike Matusow (poker pro, Former sponsored pro at Full Tilt Poker) discussed Black Friday in the most recent video.
Even though Black Friday happened 10 years ago, we are all still dealing with it. The United States was the most important online poker market and it has the biggest potential of becoming this once again. Here’s to hoping that it won’t take another 10 years until the whole of the U.S. is back and connected to the worldwide player pool.