"It's really frustrating to me," says LaTour. "It just seems they weren't seeing any of that money that was going out there so they want to set it up so they can tax it. But the longer this takes, the more there will be people like me who just give up on it and move on with our lives to find another way of making a living. I've pretty much stopped waiting around."

A solution seems rather simple. Since everything's handled electronically, Internet poker offers the possibility of instant taxation of winnings. And the feds could easily force sites operating in the U.S. to pay American taxes for the privilege of doing business here.

Yet the mom-and-pop poker enthusiast doesn't employ a battery of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. And even if she did, she'd still be confronted by the moralists who believe any form of gambling is a sin.

"We're a pretty small minority," says Wright. "We don't have a big voice. We need to be louder. But we're talking American politics. We know it's going to take longer than it should, they're going to find a way to screw people, and they're probably going to make the taxing situation really complicated."

Brian Mogelefsky grew up on Long Island and joined his dad's mortgage business, Discount Funding Associates, out of high school in the early '90s. It remained a small concern until the 2000s, when they took the business online, hiring 600 people at their peak.

But the mortgage industry was about to implode. By 2006 the Mogelefskys had closed shop.

Until then poker had been little more than a hobby. Mogelefsky started playing after seeing the Matt Damon and Ed Norton film Rounders and began showing up at house games on Long Island.

When his company collapsed, Mogelefsky decided to play poker online for a month in earnest, a test to see if it could provide a living. He ended up making $7,000. A new career was born.

His new job offered geographical flexibility. He and his wife began making lists of where they'd like to raise their two kids. They settled on a neighborhood in south Charlotte, North Carolina, where they could halve their cost of living and build their dream home.

"I want to be here when my kids grow up," says Mogelefsky. "For the things I wanted to accomplish, it was worth it to make the sacrifices. Even today, I don't really want to play poker for a living, but I sort of backed into it, and it allowed the lifestyle and things that were important to me...It was going great until April 15."

Mogelefsky had the best week of his life just before Black Friday, earning more than $15,000. He generally never let his Full Tilt account rise above $10,000 before withdrawing the money. But by that time, the company was already experiencing financial problems.

Full Tilt refused a withdrawal at the beginning of April. By the time the feds seized its assets 15 days later, Mogelefsky had $28,000 in his account. It was now frozen.

"I know how to pick them," he laughs ruefully. "I went from the mortgage industry to the poker industry, the two biggest collapses of the last ten years...I was in shock. Not only am I not able to produce more money, but the money I basically earned the last three months is also gone."

The closest casino to his home is Harrah's Cherokee, three hours away in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But it doesn't offer enough action to make a living. So Mogelefsky began flying to Florida, crashing at his in-laws' place in Fort Lauderdale and playing the poker rooms at dog tracks and Indian casinos. The competition isn't particularly tough, but the pots are small, and he can't churn the hands that he could online.

Still, with a family of four to feed, he has no other choice but to gut it out.

"It's hard because my expenses are through the roof, just from traveling, and then I have to eat. All the gas, all the extra costs, and I'm not able to put in nearly as many hours, and now I'm away from my family all the time."

Like most players, Mogelefsky has no illusions about the government riding to the rescue. The feds may have crushed a $2.5 billion industry, but they seem to have no idea how to resurrect it in a more palatable form. Nor do they seem to acknowledge all the families they've cast adrift.

Says Mogelefsky: "It's month to month, but the game plan is, hopefully, I can make enough playing live to survive until that day comes whenever it may be — five years from now? two years from now? ten years from now? — when I can go back to playing online."


Vanessa Peng is a vivacious, engaging young woman from Singapore. She came to the U.S. with her newly remarried mother when she was eight, settling in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

It was a culture shock to say the least. She and her brother found comfort playing video games as they slowly assimilated, and the seed of competition was sown. She would eventually study law in Lexington, Virginia. Her eureka moment came when she watched a friend play poker online. "I was completely fascinated."

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6 comments
Terrycart
Terrycart

This is also a main proof for the fact that more people are becoming bored of the real life. They seek to relax in this way.

Gail S.
Gail S.

Great information. Thank you for shedding light on this story! I'm glad you are providing information on the tragedy that was our Black Friday. It is well past time to license and regulate this industry in the US. Most of the world is able to play this game of skill and strategy online and Americans, of all people, should be free to play as well.

Sheryl J
Sheryl J

- Thanks for this informative article about online poker and what the government did to it. An entire industry was destroyed last year. This is the first article that really illustrates the situation. We need federal legislation that licenses and regulates online poker in the U.S. and brings back an industry. -

anon guest
anon guest

As someone who played on PokerStars, I can tell you I got every dime I was owed when Black Friday happened, PokerStars was very open and up front and my account was paid out in a timely manner, so no complaints about that. It's a total shame that the U.S poker industry has come right out and said "tax us and regulate us", and yet the government can't seem to figure out a way to allow law-abiding U.S citizens a way to enjoy a favorite pasttime. Seems to me that the moral police are behind this.

Slaps
Slaps

I thought I was hearig that they were going to put in new legislation to make it legal.... I think some people use other poker sites in the USA to gamble like BODOG...I personally use betanysports.com for all my sports betting.

KITTY
KITTY

This is another example of the feds having their heads up their asses. Just like prostitution and drugs, gambling has been with us for eons and will never go away. The feds should legalize all these things and tax the revenues of each. Our debt problems would be solved in short order. As a person who is hooked on Texas Hold'Em, I wish I could play for real money instead of chips on AOL. People who watch the World Series of Poker know that some American poker pros maintain other residences in Canada so they can play online legally, raking in lots of big bux. Hmm, more good paying jobs leaving the USA....

 
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