Isai Scheinberg Among Ten 2020 Finalists for Poker Hall of Fame Enshrinement

Posted on: December 19, 2020, 07:51h. 

Last updated on: December 20, 2020, 02:17h.

PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg finds himself vying for enshrinement in the Poker Hall of Fame against some legendary pros after the organization revealed its 10 finalists for 2020 on Thursday.

Poker Hall of Fame Finalists
PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg (pictured, bottom left corner) is among 10 finalists in this year’s voting for the Poker Hall of Fame. (Image: World Series of Poker)

Scheinberg is one of three first-time finalists, along with the World Series of Poker broadcast team of Lon McEachern and Norman Chad (who were nominated jointly), and Finnish pro Patrik Antonius. Others are Eli Elezra, Antonio Esfandiari, Chris Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Mike Matusow, Matt Savage, and Huckleberry Seed.

Under the Hall of Fame’s rules, its 32 living members will decide who joins the fraternity. They each get 10 points to allocate among all finalists. The individual with the most points will become the 59th member.

It’ll be the first time since 2004 that the Hall will induct just a one-member class. From 1980 until then, the hall only welcomed one new member per year.

The announcement will take place on Dec. 30, just before the start of the head-to-head WSOP Main Event final between the US and international division winners.

The finalists came after the Hall allowed the poker community to offer nominations over the previous two weeks.

According to the Hall’s guidelines, players must be at least 40 years of age and have played high-stakes games and against top-level competition. They must also have a consistent record of good play and be considered a player who “stood the test of time.”

Others can be considered if they helped fuel the game’s growth “with indelible positive and lasting results.”

Why the Poker Community Nominated Scheinberg

Scheinberg founded online poker site PokerStars nearly 20 years ago, helping expand interest in the game by allowing people to play from their computer. But online poker in the US eventually became a target of the federal government, thanks to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

On April 15, 2011, federal authorities seized the assets and domains of several online poker sites, including PokerStars. That date in the gaming community became known as “Black Friday.”

Prosecutors charged the Lithuanian-born Israeli-Canadian entrepreneur with bank fraud, money laundering, and violating UIGEA.

Scheinberg eluded prosecution for eight years before his arrest in Switzerland in June 2019. He surrendered to US agents in January. Two months later, he pleaded guilty to running an illegal online poker site.

A federal judge levied a $30,000 fine, as Scheinberg avoided serving up to five years in prison. He was the last of 11 Black Friday defendants to have his court case settled.

PokerStars in 2012 paid the US $731 million to retrieve its assets and those belonging to Full Tilt Poker. Eventually, all PokerStars and Full Tilt players received repayment, with Scheinberg helping players from other sites as well.

Amaya Inc. bought the poker sites in 2014 for $4.9 billion. That allowed the company, which became known as The Stars Group, to enter the US market legally. It now operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In May, Flutter Entertainment closed on its $12.2 billion merger with The Stars Group.

On the same day the Poker Hall of Fame named Scheinberg as a finalist, the Kentucky Supreme Court reinstated a ruling against the company that state officials sought in trying to reclaim losses by residents.

The ruling means the company owes about $1.3 billion. That’s equal to the reported loss of $290.2 million, then tripled under state law, plus interest. Flutter officials dispute the amount and have said they’re confident it can be reduced.

Voters Divided

Chris Moneymaker, who was one of two inductees last year, went on Twitter Friday to evaluate each of the candidates.

Isai… changed my life! and many others. Always respected him and enjoyed time spent,” said Moneymaker, the 2003 Main Event champion, whose run that year helped give online poker credibility.

Other voters also used the social media site to break down how they plan to vote. Erik Seidel, who entered the Hall in 2010, said Saturday he planned to split his points between Scheinberg and Seed.

Not everyone agreed with Seidel.

“I agree about Huck, but why Isai?” replied Doyle Brunson, enshrined in 1988. “All he did was make a billion off of poker players.”

Scheinberg isn’t the only 2020 finalist connected to Black Friday. Chris Ferguson has been a well-regarded player for years. However, he also worked with Full Tilt Poker. His years of silence regarding that – though he did issue an apology a couple years ago – has not sat well with some poker players or voters.

Phil Hellmuth, though, tweeted that he believed some in the community unfairly hold Full Tilt’s demise against him. Because of that, the 2007 inductee believes it may be 2023 before Ferguson can earn the honor.