BY JEREMY MOONEYHAM
In early 2006 I found myself unemployed and destitute after leaving a job and caring for my elderly grandparents for an unexpected length of time. I wanted to get away and travel but I needed a way to fund the journey.
After playing in a few local home poker games and doing quite well, I found that I had a natural knack for the psychological warfare that is poker. I began to take trips to Biloxi, Mississippi from my home on the Gulf Coast to play in the smaller tournaments and managed to build up a decent starting bankroll.
Could I actually turn pro this soon? Was I ready to hit the road and spend night after night in a smoke-filled room with truckers and retirees hoping to maybe receive a comp to the buffet?
It turns out that I wasn’t ready to take that next step and leave home just yet. The lifestyle of a traveling player did not seem that glamorous – and when you are renting a room and eating out three meals a day, it’s easy to feel like too much of your bankroll is covering overhead.
After watching Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker in 2003 on a Pokerstars $39 Satellite entry, I knew I would one day try my luck at online poker. If an accountant with minimal poker experience could pocket $2.5 million and the WSOP title, then I figured I could grind out a living at the very least.
After companies like Partypoker and Full Tilt jumped into the online poker scene, there were literally thousands of poker games to choose from at any given time – with players from across the world.
After watching the rise of online poker for a few years I decided to finally enter the arena in late 2006. A friend sent me a free $25 promotional play voucher for signing up with one of the more reputable sites on the Internet.
I started playing at 6 p.m. on a Friday and found myself still going at 9 a.m. the next morning…But wait, I needed to get a job! Hold on I had just found one! The low buy-in tournament I entered with my promo money was coming to a close – and I was in second place! $1850!
Not bad for a night’s work. And so, that’s how I entered the online poker world. Back in 2006 these sites had so much traffic and the U.S. market was so wide open that the sites would essentially just give players free money to get them to play on their site.
The most daunting part of the online poker world was the cash-out; we all want to get paid for our labors in a safe and timely manner. And to my surprise I got paid very quickly after I deposited $25 with my checking account as an e-check.
The check cleared four days later and my e-check from the company was safely in my checking account just three days after that. In one week of waiting, I had made up my mind that if that e-check was deposited as promised I would be turning pro as a poker player.
And so I threw two new tires on the front of my Acura, packed up the laptop and headed for my favorite hotel in Atlanta. Seven hours and many miles later I arrived and set up my home office at the hotel.
I grabbed a sports drink and a granola bar from the vending machines down the hall and I was back online and back in business.
And I stayed in business and on the road until Neteller (The largest payment processor for e-checks) was brought down on January 18, 2007 by the U.S. Department of Justice. The funds I had tied up with Neteller were frozen and the money I had on poker sites was stuck- I didn’t have any way to get money safely back to my bank account.
I eventually found a way to get money to and from the sites via Western Union. I kept traveling and I kept playing but the experience was never the same. My deposits were now sent to some “Agent” in the Phillippines with a real long name. My cashouts were taking two weeks or more to reach me and came with a heavy percentage tax for the convenience.
I eventually got a check from Neteller after the company left the U.S. market and paid over $136 million in reparations to the U.S. D.O.J. And that was basically the end of my professional online poker career. I never expected to get anything back. And when I did, I used the money to travel for the rest of that year.
When I tell people about “My Year as an Online Travelling Poker Pro” I usually don’t talk about all the less-exciting and non-glamorous dynamics mentioned above. I remember that first big tournament win so well and it changed me as a person and as a poker player.
What I had hoped for in mid-2007 was a change in policy, a shift in scope to allow for the re-emergence of legitimate online poker in the United States. Five years later, that reality is coming true in the state of Nevada as South Point Casino of Las Vegas became the first entity in the U.S. to receive an initial nod of approval from state gaming regulators for online poker.
South Point hopes to be fully online and functional in the next several months but will initially only allow play in the state of Nevada. With all the recent developments from several entities attempting to enter the U.S. online poker scene, solid international companies like Bwin.Party.com and partypoker français (companies who left the U.S. market on their own without the help of the DOJ) are starting to eye the U.S. market again.
The potential for a regulated and licensed climate for online poker regulation has again returned to the U.S. And I am again looking at hitting the road…
I need another excuse to spend a year as a traveling online poker pro.