The annual release of the Poker Hall of Fame finalist list is always good fodder for discussion. Thing is, that debate is normally reserved for poker fans and media. The nominees themselves don’t normally engage in a public back-and-forth. This week, though, long-time World Series of Poker on-air commentator Norman Chad had something to say about the nomination of PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg and it was not complimentary.
For background, PokerStars was an important player during the poker boom, especially because the online poker room popularized the online satellite tournament. 2003 WSOP Main Event champ Chris Moneymaker famously qualified via a PokerStars satellite, and from there, PokerStars became known as a tournament destination. Greg Raymer and Tony Hachem, the next two Main Event champs, became PokerStars pros.
When online poker rooms, partypoker in particular, vacated the U.S. market after the UIGEA passed in the fall of 2006, PokerStars and took over as the world leader. In 2011, the Department of Justice unsealed indictments against Scheinberg and ten other online poker principals for crimes such as money laundering and illegal operation of a gambling business. Scheinberg stayed out of the U.S. until 2019, when he finally surrendered to U.S. authorities and negotiated a plea deal. In September 2020, he was sentenced to time served and a minimal fine for one charge of operating an illegal gambling business.
Chad minces few words
Norman Chad certainly understands Scheinberg’s significance in the history of online poker, but he feels that someone who skirted the law to build his online poker empire should not be honored.
“PokerStars had an undeniable impact on the growth of online poker, as did PartyPoker,” Chad tweeted. “When U.S. law changed in 2008, many operators stopped serving the U.S. market (most significantly, PartyPoker). Scheinberg chose to continue and benefited from the good actors stepping aside.”
“But, sure, let’s enshrine a guy who lined his pockets with poker gold by knowingly circumventing U.S. law for many, many years,” Chad continued. “Granted, it was bad law, but that does not change the fact that Isai Scheinberg simply ignored it.”
Chad added that PokerStars has other question marks on its resume:
He concluded by saying that if the poker world would not honor a cheater, it should not honor a “businessman who cheated the system.”
Most of the online poker community strongly disagrees with Chad, agreeing that the law was bad, but believing it was fine, perhaps even good, that PokerStars turned up its nose at the U.S. government so that American poker players could continue playing.
Chad’s critics go on to say that poker would not be anywhere close to as big in the United States had PokerStars – and even the now-reviled Full Tilt Poker, UltimateBet, and Absolute Poker – left the U.S. market after the UIGEA. The World Series of Poker’s wild growth in the first decade of the century was largely thanks to PokerStars and online poker, which implies that Scheinberg and PokerStars are partially responsible for Norman Chad’s Poker Hall of Fame nomination.