To Play Poker in a Pandemic, Americans Flee the U.S.


So, in August, when the world series moved from to a site called GGPoker, players who remained in the United States were out of luck, particularly because the most lucrative events were scheduled for then, including the “Main Event,” which, for a mere $5,000 entry fee, offered a chance at a $3.9 million first-place prize. (The in-person version of the tournament last year had more than double the prize pool and a top prize of $10 million, and the entry fee was $10,000.)

“Given travel restrictions to and from the U.S.A., it would have been impossible to achieve international participation, even online through, without a licensed third-party to serve these customers in their home market,” the W.S.O.P.’s Stewart said.

It would also have been a far smaller event had it remained in the United States.

GGPoker, which launched in 2017, is based in Canada and Ireland with gambling licenses in the United Kingdom, Malta and Curacao. It paid W.S.O.P. a licensing fee to host the tournament. As of mid-August, over 170,000 people have played in the international events.

Konnikova is not one of them because she refused to get on a plane for fear of the coronavirus.

“I wanted to drive to Canada,” Konnikova said. “If the border had been open, we would have gone.”

Canada, along with many other countries, wasn’t admitting Americans because of the U.S.’s surging number of coronavirus cases. Some parts of Mexico were letting Americans in but only by plane, not by car. Many of the game’s most well-known players, such as Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Maria Ho, and poker vlogger Brad Owen, got on planes bound for Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Negreanu, who is a Canadian citizen, could have gone to Canada, but he and his wife preferred to be on a beach so they chartered a private plane from Las Vegas to Cabo, because it seemed like the safest and nicest option in Mexico. “We looked at the Covid numbers and Cabo was by far the least affected,” he said.

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