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Black Friday Effect: Justin Bonomo Talks Moving to Malta

Justin Bonomo

Since the infamous events of Black Friday, poker players have been leaving the United States en masse to continue playing online poker. Phil Galfond, Vanessa Selbst, and Brian Hastings are just a few notables who made the decision to relocate. In addition, PokerNews has brought you interviews with two Supernova Elite players on PokerStars, “Dombo” and Mike “MeleaB” Brooks, who left everything they knew to continue earning a living.

These players, among others, have been so profoundly impacted by the U.S. government’s actions regarding online poker that they’ve felt compelled to take the radical action of leaving the country. While that may seem extreme, playing online is often the sole source of income for these players and as they say: “Drastic times call for drastic measures.”

On Aug. 18, 2011, Justin Bonomo added his name to the list of pros by announcing that he was leaving the U.S. While most online poker pros are opting for relocation to Canada, Bonomo went a little more exotic in choosing Malta. His timing was no doubt deliberate, since it came at the conclusion of the World Series of Poker and just in time for the World Poker Tour Malta and WSOP Europe.

PokerNews recently sat down with Bonomo to discuss his plans to move to Malta and the effect Black Friday has had on his life.

Before Black Friday, had moving out of the country ever crossed your mind?

Before Black Friday, I never would have considered moving abroad. I have a girlfriend here whom I love very much, a great group of friends that live in Panorama Towers with me, and all of my family is here.

What process did you go through when deciding to move?

My plan from the start was based around the fact that the WSOP was coming up. I remained calm without making any decisions until the WSOP was over. I talked with a bunch of people about potential places to move. I wanted to make sure I had some good friends with me wherever I went.

Is anyone else moving with you? If so, who?

I will be moving with Isaac Haxton, his girlfriend, and Steve "MrTimCaum" O'Dwyer.

Did you give any consideration to transitioning to strictly live play? Why or why not? Why do you feel moving out of the country is a better option than trying to play live in the U.S.?

Happiness matters more than anything when making a decision like this, and frankly, I'm miserable when I play live poker. It's incredibly slow, and I'm often surrounded by people I don't want to be around. Live poker is not meant for a cynical person like myself. Much less important than that is the fact that I expect to make a lot more money playing online. I can get in hundreds of thousands of hands at high stakes, which I could never replicate live.

What sort of things do you have to do to prepare for your move to Malta? Did you have to secure a visa? Can you describe the process for us?

I have a lot of financial accounting to do. I have to figure out what to do with my furniture and my apartment (I think a couple of friends are going to live here with my stuff). Malta is actually going through immigration reform right now, so I have a pretty good idea of what was required, but that might all be changing as I sit here. There are a lot of documents I need to get in order. On Thursday, I'm going to the FBI to get my fingerprints taken to get the criminal background check that Malta requires. I've never been arrested or anything, so it should just be a formality. That's just one example of the many documents I'll need.

What sorts of things are you unloading before your move?

I want to keep my car for when I come back for the World Series of Poker, but I have a lot of people offering to take good care of it for me while I'm gone.

How much money do you still have trapped online at FTP and UltimateBet?

I don't want to give an exact number, but the amount I have trapped online is six figures. It's a very large chunk of my total bankroll.

Do you honestly believe you'll see that money again or have you written it off?

I think I'm a favorite to get back money from FTP. From UB? Maybe pennies on the dollar — maybe.

Did it come as a complete shock to you that FTP and UB had such loose financial practices or were you ever weary?

I had been actively cashing out on UB for obvious reasons. There was no surprise there. FTP is definitely a bit more shocking. It is (or at least was) a multibillion dollar company. They had to severely screw up to end up in this situation. I think Black Friday showed how perfectly run a company PokerStars is. The other sites could learn a thing or two from them. They have consistently made the best decision while keeping their players happy for a decade.

What was your withdrawal regimen? Did you only keep a certain amount of money online at a time? If your balance ever hit a certain amount, did you make it a habit of withdrawing anything over that amount?

I don't have a specific withdrawal regimen. I assumed my money was completely safe with Stars and FTP and had no problem keeping a large percent of my net worth there. Guess I was wrong. As for UB, like I said before, I was a little more careful and aware of the risks. My number one rule was always to trust the big sites. They have a lot more to lose if something sketchy happens than the smaller sites. Historically, it's always been the small shady sites to go under, not the big ones with history. Always be careful if you're playing on a site that has little traffic, even if it's a skin of a bigger site.

Have you always felt that your money was safe online?

I've always felt like the bigger sites were safe. For the smaller sites, or any sites with a tainted history, you obviously have to be a lot more careful.

What have you heard about the online games post-Black Friday? Do you feel it is worth your relocation?

For years I've heard that the Euro sites are much softer than PS and FTP. Based on what I've heard post-Black Friday, it sure seems like the games will be super soft once I get set up. I think it just boils down to many countries being four to five years behind us in terms of experience, simply because the poker boom hit the U.S. first.

Do you think that online poker will eventually become legalized and regulated in the U.S.? If it does, would you move back?

Yes, I think poker will come back to the U.S. in full force. When it does, I'll be there.

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