Chad v. Scheinberg highlight's poker's dark past

Jon Pill
Posted on: December 23, 2020 11:55 PST

Norman Chad is a fan of most of the people on the list of World Series of Poker Hall of Fame nominees. But there are two he has his doubts about.

The dismissal of his own name on the list we can assume is mere self-deprecation. On the other hand, we don't need to assume anything about his position on Sheinberg's nomination. In a recent tweet-storm, Chad made his opinion on that subject very clear.

"Virtually everyone nominated this year – present company excepted – is Hall of Fame-worthy," he tweeted. "With one notable anomaly: PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg."

Pros for the con

The case for Scheinberg is pretty straightforward. His roll in building up PokerStars alone marks him out as a major force in popularising the game and creating the poker ecosystem. Star's software became the industry standard. And the player was a part of making the world where players were not just playing poker, but where they could get professional sponsorships.

The deal he cut with the D.O.J. after Black Friday made Full Tilt's customers whole. It kept stars in the game if not in the states. To say he "saved" online poker might be a bit of a stretch. But it's a stretch plenty of players have been willing to make in the run-up to the final HOF vote.

Daniel Negreanu, who is no friend of Chad's, went so far as to say all 10 of his votes are going to Scheinberg. He tweeted about his votes, saying that "a builder category without Isai is no builder category at all."

Cons from a pro

Chad is a loveable oddball who's mostly known for playing an idiot to Lorn Mceachern's straight man in the WSOP commentary box. His Twitter feed shows it. After months of videos of himself doing the Ooka-Looka dance, he has switched to relentless adverts for Gambling Mad, his new podcast.

The multi-tweet chain about Scheinberg was a bit of a departure for him.

Chad doesn't deny that Scheinberg's work in building the game up requires recognition. "PokerStars had an undeniable impact on the growth of online poker," he concedes.

But, the argument ad Black Friday doesn't hold water for him. After all, before we can praise Scheinberg for saving us post-Black Friday, we need to remember his role in bringing Black Friday to pass.

"Let’s enshrine a guy who lined his pockets with poker gold by knowingly circumventing U.S. law for many, many years. [...] Essentially, PokerStars attempted to violate federal bank fraud and money laundering laws for years in order to operate in the U.S."

He acknowledges the law in question was a bad one. But clearly he doesn't brook much truck with the doctrine that rules are for the guidance of the wise and the adherence of fools.

Many sites adhered to the rules, while PokerStars and Full Tilt continued to make money with the market share the good-actors left behind. He concludes by saying, "If this is the cost of doing business, then it's a bad business. And a stain on the game."

The scales of justice

Chad is just the tip of the iceberg. It is clear from replies to him, and to commentators who have taken Scheinberg's side that there are plenty who oppose Scheinberg taking a spot on Binion's wall.

But they seem dwarfed by the more consensus view that Scheinberg has earned that spot. Some take the tack that founding PokerStars alone should win him a spot. Other's say that since UIGEA was an unpopular law, Scheinberg's circumvention of it was sound.

Since much of the discussion of this matter is taking place on Twitter, it doesn't allow for much nuance.

It is perfectly possible to acknowledge the damage that Scheinberg did to poker's reputation and its market while honoring what he did to build poker up.

In the Hall of Fame with him are alleged murders (Benny Binion), confirmed murderers (Wild Bill Hickok, etc), B & E artists (Dave Ulliott, etc), cocaine users (Stu Ungar, etc), known cheats (Puggy Pearson), the allegedly connected (Nick Dandalos), and the criminally gauche (Phil Hellmuth).

Frankly, Scheinberg will fit right in.

Featured image source: Twitter