Black Friday Chronicles: Justin Bonomo Reflects on the Past Year
It has been one year since Black Friday drastically changed the poker world. While the effects of that fateful day have yet to run their course, and likely won’t for years to come, online poker has been altered forever. Players all over the world were impacted, but none more so than players in the United States. U.S. players, like Justin Bonomo, were forced to make drastic decisions about their poker careers.
If you recall, Bonomo announced last August that he was moving out of the country to continue playing online poker, stating “Drastic times call for drastic measures.” He chose Malta as his new home, though he later relocated to Toronto. Black Friday totally changed his life, forcing him to crisscross the globe to continue making a living, something he had to do minus the six-figures he has trapped on Full Tilt Poker.
PokerNews recently caught up with Bonomo to see how his life has changed over the last year, and exactly how Black Friday impacted his life.
It’s been a year since Black Friday. What has been the biggest change in your life as a result of that day?
My life drastically changed as a direct result of Black Friday. I woke up one day and no longer had a job. I made the tough choice to leave the country I had lived in my whole life, which unfortunately also meant leaving my girlfriend that I loved very much. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but I wasn't ready to say goodbye to online poker. Poker is my life.
You opted to relocate to Malta to continue playing online poker, though shortly after, you moved to Toronto. Is that where you are now and how did you come to the decision to live there?
I was in Malta for a few months but I did not like it there. No one has any interest in getting anything done, which was particularly problematic considering I had banking, visa, and even plumbing issues that seemed like they were impossible to solve. After three months of living there, I still wasn't back on PokerStars and decided that after the Epic tournament in December, I would not be returning. Before 2011 ended, I was in Toronto. I absolutely love it here so far.
You previously told us you had six figures trapped on Full Tilt Poker. What are your thoughts on that situation? Do you think Groupe Bernard Tapie will acquire FTP and that you’ll get your money back?
Yes, I do have six figures in limbo thanks to FTP. The situation is unfortunate to say the least. It's inconceivable how Bitar could have run such a successful multibillion dollar company straight into the ground. On the positive side, I have faith that the GBT deal will go through and everyone will be paid back. I think there's a lot of value there, and GBT apparently agrees with me. I will certainly be playing on FTP again if they can assure me that player funds are segregated.
Has the FTP debacle inspired you to change anything about your online regime or do you trust the sites on which you play?
I have always told people, "Trust the bigger sites. Your money is much safer in a billion-dollar company than a million-dollar company." I have never had any lack of faith in PokerStars and I think they are an almost perfectly run company. If this GBT deal goes through, it will only affirm my previous opinion on trusting the bigger sites. When the other sites went busto, they didn't have assets to pay the players back. FTP will be the first site to ever "rise from the dead." It's simply too valuable of an entity to have just gone to waste, unlike PokerSpot, BattleField, Cereus, or any of the others. How depressing that the list is so long I have to shorten it.
Can you tell us what the games are like without U.S. players?
The games would be great without the U.S. players. Unfortunately you have an environment where you still have most of the best American players, but none of the fish. The games have been pretty tough lately as a result in my opinion.
What has been the biggest surprise to you over the past year related to Black Friday?
The biggest surprises have all come from Full Tilt. Finding out they had no liquid assets was completely astonishing for me.
A lot of people have said these are “dark days” for the game. In your opinion, what is the state of poker at this time?
These are definitely dark days for poker, and I hold the US government as being largely responsible for it. If they had regulated it from the start, they would have more money and the players would have a safer environment to play in. Sadly our government isn't the most efficient.
Have you been keeping an eye on the online poker situation in the United States? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you think online poker will be legalized and regulated in the States anytime soon?
It looks like online poker will be regulated in a few states relatively soon. I'm not convinced that will lead to a great environment for me to make a living in. With all of the segregated poker markets, it makes it much harder to find good high stakes games. PokerStars.NV could potentially have the toughest games of any poker site ever. I hope the states come together and find a solution to avoid segregated markets, but I'm not optimistic about the chances of that happening on a large scale. I fear the days of players around the world all being able to play on one site might never return.
If online poker is legalized and regulated in the U.S., would you move back?
If the high-stakes games online are good, I would love to move back to the U.S. You won't see me holding my breath for that, though.
Do you think that online poker can comeback from Black Friday?
The average person has no idea what Black Friday is. I don't think there's much of a question of whether or not poker can recover from it. Today the question lies with the regulatory bodies. I am very optimistic that poker will be regulated in the U.S., but if we see poker sites regulated by state, it won't be like the good ol' days.