Online poker – Ever since 1998 when the very first hand of online poker was dealt at the Planet Poker site, it’s seen a huge rise in popularity across the world. Key to its growth were the introduction of ‘hole card cameras’ on TV coverage such as the World Poker Tour (which allowed the viewer to see what cards each player was holding), and the (then unknown) poker player Chris Moneymaker winning the World Series of Poker in 2003. Many amateur players, or people who'd never touched the game before, saw that it offered lucrative rewards and was easily accessible.
Fast forward to the 2000s and an ever-growing number of players are now professional – that is, they glean their income from playing poker, often a mixture of on and offline play. Many players are young, some are millionaires. Canada’s most famous poker pro, Daniel Negreanu, is estimated to have won around $16 million from live poker play. With such vast numbers being won it’s no wonder that people are attracted to poker as a living. Other positives are the flexibility it offers (being able to work wherever you are and whenever you want), and being your own boss.
In the USA, thousands and thousands of players were enjoying the poker boom, using the big sites such as Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars either for recreational play or to ‘grind’ out a living (‘grind’ is used as for many players the endless hours of play can be quite monotonous). The companies were enjoying reaping the rewards, as were the players. Millions of dollars were being won and lost on a daily basis. For poker players, life was good.
All was good, that is, until 2011, and a day that has been referred to since as ‘Black Friday’. Players trying to log on were greeted with a holding page from the FBI and were unable to play or get hold of their funds. Bear in mind, for thousands of players, this was their way of making a living and supporting themselves so was a massive blow, to say the least.
Black Friday centred around something called the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act). After this was passed, one of the biggest sites at the time (Party Poker), stopped providing poker to the US market. Meanwhile, PokerStars and Full Tilt continued doing so until ‘Black Friday’ put an end to it.
Needless to say, this left a large number of American poker professionals unable to play poker, they had no way of earning money (many of whom were earning big money at the time). As a response to this, many players decided that rather than looking for alternative employment, or playing a waiting game to see if things changed, they'd up sticks and move to Canada where online poker was legal. Guide sites such as PokerSites.ca quickly became invaluable as they allowed players to find the best legal sites to play on within Canada.
This influx of poker players into the country even made mainstream news as CBC.ca reported in 2012. Indeed, a website called PokerRefugees.com was launched with the specific aim of helping USA players move to Canada, or other destinations where they could play legally and safely.
The future of poker legislation in the USA is somewhat grey – laws differ from state to state, so if you're in the USA it’s worth checking before you even log on to an online room. For players in Canada, of course, it’s a snap to play at many sites due to the legal stance there. It’s probably impossible for anyone to provide a meaningful number in terms of how many professional poker players there are now in Canada, but one thing’s for sure – more and more USA players are moving North to join them.