Awesome People: After 'Black Friday,' a local poker player's lament


Originally appeared in The Phoenix

If you think the only thing on television these days other than those silly P90X infomercials is poker, then you're probably on to something. But that all stands to change, now that the feds handed three popular online poker websites what effectively amounts to a death sentence in the United States.

An end to online poker means an end to all those sponsorships and commercials that make televised tournaments possible. And without those glitzy ads around to lure moms, dads, and the 35-year-old sons who still live with them, the game is likely to revert back to its pre-2003 days, when the only people playing cards regularly were wannabe cowboys and guys named Huck.

Which could mean the very premature end to a potentially lucrative career for one Rhode Islander.

Bill DelSanto doesn't call himself a professional poker player yet. He still wants to sleep with women and finish college and he even works a part-time job at Citizens Bank to stay active. But considering he won $31,087.50 sitting in his bedroom on a single Sunday last May, it's safe to say the 21-year-old is more than a recreational player at this point.

DelSanto estimates poker has provided 90 percent of his spending money since he was a 16-year-old Bishop Hendricken student, when he would sneak into Foxwoods to play cash games for hours at a time. It's rare (and illegal) for someone so young to get their start playing live games in a casino, but he says, "I never wanted to leave a high balance online just in case they picked up and left some day."

When he finally entered the Interzone in earnest, his game took off. With the ability to play in four tournaments at once, he quickly began to master a number of less popular poker games. On television, the game of choice is almost always no-limit Texas hold 'em, but DelSanto prefers H.O.R.S.E., a mixed version of poker that many veterans avoid because of the difficultly.

It was a major online H.O.R.S.E. tournament he was prepared to enter earlier this month when he found out PokerStars had had been shut down to American players.

Players refer to it as "Black Friday."

"The feeling on Black Friday literally felt so depressing that it was numbing," DelSanto says. "I was driving home from work and got a message on Facebook and Twitter about the shutdown and I literally almost crashed."

The founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker were among 11 people indicted on charges of bank fraud and money laundering. The federal government reportedly hopes to recover $3 billion from the companies, which until recently ran commercials alongside every poker tournament on television.

Without the low buy-in qualifying tournaments held online, many poker enthusiasts believe the World Series of Poker, which normally pays over $5 million to the Main Event winner, will suffer from a severe downturn in players. And if the game wanes in popularity, ESPN will likely be the first to pull its support.

But DelSanto remains upbeat about the game he eventually wants to make a career out of.

"I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing with a lot more traveling in the picture," he said. "I'm still going to work at the bank, work on my degree, and play poker. I have the World Series of Poker in June and I am looking forward to seeing the world while hopefully amassing a fortune in the process."

For now, though, there is some unintentional irony in the online screen name he used to play under: ItbDone.

Sooner than he ever thought.


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