On April 15, 2011, the online poker world was rocked by the events of ”Black Friday” and the poker landscape in the U.S. was radically altered. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of players were denied access to their online funds, while some were cut off from their livelihood. Last week, we interviewed one such player, Mike “MeleaB” Brooks, who took the drastic measure of relocating to England to play online poker.
This week, we caught up with another online pro who goes by the moniker “Dombo.” This particular player asked that his real name be kept confidential. We can tell you that Dombo, like Brooks, is a PokerStars Supernova Elite who has opted to relocate to have access to online poker. Instead of England, Dombo has followed in the footsteps of Phil Galfond, Vanessa Selbst, and Brian Hastings and moved to Canada.
For those who don’t know, some players put in a full-time schedule grinding on PokerStars to amass a million VPPs, thus earning SNE status. The benefits to doing so are great, including rake-back, travel, and other lucrative opportunities. As Dombo explains in the interview, it literally become a job and a way of life.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What did you do before online poker and when did you start playing?
I’m 25, turning 26 at the end of November. I’ve been playing online poker probably for, it’s 2011, so probably since 2007. I graduated college with a math degree. I want to actually teach, and I kind of paid my way through school by playing poker. Then, when I actually got out of school in May of 2009, I actually decided to go full time with poker, give it a shot for one whole year. I kind of just never decided to go back to teaching at all. My degree just sits there, getting dusty.
Is 2009 the first year you earned the Supernova Elite status?
No, actually 2010 was. In 2009, I probably got about 600,000 or 700,000 just because I was actually student-teaching, which pretty much is being a teacher. So I pretty much wasn’t able to play that much during January to May of that year.
Prior to Black Friday, did you have any thoughts of moving out of the country?
What’s funny is that I actually traveled in 2010, staying in Germany from December to February. I did stay in the Canary Islands for like two months, which is just a gorgeous place, it’s just all laid back. I ended up coming back and went out to L.A. for about a few weeks in March. I never really had the desire to move permanently, but I mean I’d just bring my laptop and grinding while I was traveling.
Where did you end up moving to and what led to that decision? Did you ever think of transitioning to live play?
On May 15 I moved to Montreal. I kind of didn’t have a choice. Honestly, no. To me, I play poker for a living, but I don’t really see it as gambling. As a Supernova Elite, it’s pretty much like you have a contract, so that’s what I treat it as. I treat it as a job per hour, put in a certain number of hours required of the 1,000,000 points and you get X amount of dollars at the end of the year. So that’s kind of how I factor it. I’m not saying that I can’t go and beat live poker, but I don’t really want to take the risk of transitioning to it.
Did you consider any other countries other than Canada?
Honestly, not really. I just kind of picked Montreal because it was the closest to me. I actually heard a lot of good things about Montreal when I was there prior to doing it. I heard I’d kind of be moving into a party city, which would be good. On top of it, I have a girlfriend and I want her to be able to come visit me.
How was the transition moving up there? Did you have to go through a lot of paper work and acquire a visa? Was it a hassle?
I don’t have a visa because you can’t get a visa to move to Canada being self-proclaimed. I mean I pay self-employment tax, and to the U.S. taxes I’m a professional gambler, but you can’t get a visa in Canada for doing that, so that wasn’t an option. So I kind of just moved up here kind of hoping I’d get across the border, and supposedly every time you cross, you’re able to stay for 180 days. If you want to hear about crossing the border, that might be kind of interesting.
It was probably a two-hour process at the border at immigration. They searched me and through my luggage, my whole car. They took apart all my luggage and stuff like that. They asked us like a hundred background questions, it was just a grueling process.
Was there any point you thought you might not get across?
Not really, I mean we’re American, I don’t know why they would have said no. I filled out the different forms, I kind of had an idea of what was going to happen anyway, but I mean you can’t really lie when you’re moving into the country, you know, you’re trying to stay for six months so you can’t really pack that light. So I kind of went with the truth. I was like, 'I’m just moving here, trying to live here like three weeks to a month to play some poker on the Internet. I’m going to play in casinos, etc.,' and they we’re kind of just like, ‘OK.’ They don’t want you living there a long time and taking anyone’s job, as well as having a little money to provide for yourself. I even brought up a copy of my bank statement just so I wouldn’t have any problems.
Did you ever play on Full Tilt Poker or UltimateBet?
No, actually just primarily on PokerStars.
Did you ever feel that one day something like Black Friday could happen?
I think it was in the back of all of our minds. I never grew accustomed to losing too much money on it, but just from doing all my different travels, and I had all my elite bonuses and stuff, I never actually had the chance to cash out too much money. Once Black Friday hit, I had a really large amount online and I was just like, honestly, it was a scary feeling really thinking I wouldn’t have that money, my lifestyle, I felt like it was going to change. Like going to eat $200 dinners and doing whatever you want, traveling wherever you want, but not having probably a quarter of it saved in the bank, it was a pretty scary day.
With the Internet, I’m not 100 percent positive the money is going to be there at all times. I’m not going to say I saw something like Black Friday hitting, but I’m not going to say I never saw it coming. You really don’t know what’s going to happen.
Since Black Friday, have you changed your withdrawal routine? Have you pulled money off just in case?
Yeah, yeah, of course. I’ve been taking as much as I can whenever I hit a certain amount of money, just to get it off the site, especially since I’m out of the country now.
Do you think online poker will become legalized and regulated in the U.S.?
I’d love the country to do it, I mean the country’s horrible right now. The government can’t find any money, and from what I read it’s a billion-dollar market. I don’t know why a government wouldn’t wanna get involved in it. Of course I would love for it to happen and I think one day, if they’re smart enough, they should make it happen.
If that happens, would you move back to the U.S.?
If they make it legal next year and I have to play on some bullshit Las Vegas .com site, I probably won’t. PokerStars is like a job for me, being a Supernova Elite. I know how much money I’m gonna make from rake-back, you know, not even figuring in what I’m going to be making from winning or losing at the tables, and to move home for a site that might give me maybe 10 to 20 percent of my rake back, they’d have to offer me some protection to make me wanna move home.