Black Friday will be remembered as the day that the lives of many poker players changed forever. I don't need to remind you of the challenges that many players faced immediately and continue to face, but now that players have seen what post-WSOP life has to offer, there has been an exodus of sorts for online poker players from the United States.
Players such as Phil Galfond, Olivier Busquet and Kevin MacPhee already have their new residencies established and are back playing out of the comfort of their homes. Jon Aguiar tweeted on Tuesday that he's close to doing the same in Mexico, and Shane Schleger appears to be in the same boat according to his most recent blog. It's a pattern that is going to become more and more common until legislation changes, and one company is looking to make the lives of those wishing to move a little bit easier.
When online poker began to boom, PocketFives became the place for online poker players. It offered its members forums, online poker rankings and strategy articles that fit the new breed of poker player. As 10 percent of their users vanished after Black Friday, they decided to adapt and create the "Poker Refugees" service, which assists players wishing to move to another country and regain the ability to play online.
"It was a member that brought the idea up to Adam [Small, one of the co-owners of Pocket Fives] and Adam knew Kristin Wilson, who is a real estate agent in Costa Rica," said Cal Spears, a co-founder of the site. "We saw people posting about it on the forums and realized there's a big market of professional poker players who no longer had a place to play. It's not an easy process, but she has a ton of experience with it and gives them an easy way to relocate."
The service is currently offering assistance to move to three countries: Costa Rica, Panama and Canada. They'll connect you with a real estate agent in the area, assist in making your travel plans and coordinate the movers. Finding a bank and accountant and getting you in touch with other recently relocated players are also some of their top priorities during the process.
Players from the United States can enter the three countries with only their passports, but they need to remain aware of certain limitations in each of the countries. For example, in Costa Rica, a U.S. citizen can stay for up to 90 days on a tourist visa and then renew the visa every three months by leaving the country for 72 hours.
Of course, the service isn't free. It costs $1,000 ($750 per person if you are living with roommates or $1,500 for a full family), but once that retainer has been paid, the service assists you with all preparations.
"Having lived in Costa Rica on and off since 2002, I have a lot of friends, clients and contacts," said Wilson, born in Florida and now living in Costa Rica. "Everything can be done remotely. If people aren't sure, they can talk to me and make sure that they want to move abroad, make sure it's feasible. ... When they get here off the plane, I can move them right into their house or apartment. [They'll have already chosen] the property they want to live in and understand all the requirements for their bank accounts so they get here and save as much time and as much money as possible."
Wilson has also established a network of contacts in the other two countries where this service is currently being offered in order to ensure the easiest transitions.
"If it's successful, we'll definitely start expanding the offering to having more details on the other places," Spears said. "If a user is really set on moving somewhere, not set on using the three countries, we'll try to take care of them on a one-on-one basis."
Spears estimates that hundreds of poker players have already moved and many more are weighing the options.
"We wanted to launch as close as we could post-WSOP," Spears said. "We figured there would be a lot of guys waiting around and wondering, 'What do I do now? I'm a professional poker player, do I want to start on the circuit or do I want to go somewhere to establish myself and play online again?'"
The two estimate that once the move is made, players will be up and playing online again in one-to-two weeks. The hardest part, according to Wilson, is obtaining the bank account.
"Banks are pretty strict," she said. "I can't guarantee that they'll definitely be able to open an account at a specific bank. If they bring all the requirements they should be fine, but it's not like the U.S. where you walk in with your license [and it's all set]. Here you have to answer questions -- it can get complex. ... [The banks] have to make sure the money isn't being laundered."
Moving abroad might not be right for all players, but until legislation changes, it might be one of the only options for many players who have spent the last few years grinding day in and day out.
Small blinds: Russell Crane defeated the 400-entry in the $1,650 Borgata Deep Stack Double Play to win $148,704. Kenna James finished ninth in that event. ... Fintan Gavin emerged as the champion of the UKIPT Edinburgh to win 61,500 pounds. The field of 519 players created a prize pool of 251,715 pounds. ... Patrick Lee won the PokerStars Macau Red Dragon event. The 27-year-old defeated 478 players to win $134,155 after three days of competition. ... For the second straight year, Canada won the Americas Cup of Poker. Team Canada, led by captain Greg DeBora, defeated Team Mexico in the finals. ... David Diaz defeated a field of 148 at the Gold Strike World Poker Open in Tunica to win $139,182. Diaz has more than half a million in earnings in 2011. ... Leo Margets, the last woman standing at the 2009 WSOP main event, signed an endorsement deal with Lock Poker. ... ESPN.com's Bernard Lee is one of six players that remained at the final table of the Heartland Poker Tour event at Turning Stone. ... The broadcast of the WSOP main event begins Tuesday, August 16 from 8-10 p.m. on ESPN.