PokerStars co-founder Mark Scheinberg resurfaces as real-estate developer in Financial Post interview

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: October 25, 2021 13:19 PDT

In an online-poker edition of "Where Are They Now?", PokerStars co-founder Mark Scheinberg has emerged from his well-shielded life to participate in an interview with Toronto's Financial Post. These days, as the Post explains, the wealthy but publicly unknown Scheinberg has returned to his first business love, high-end real-estate development with a hospitality emphasis.

Scheinberg's current enterprise, Mohari Hospitality, allows him to fulfill his developer's dreams in a big way. In recent years, Mohari has been involved in major resort-style projects on both sides of the Atlantic and the Caribbean. With his own life's fortune well secured from his PokerStars days, the junior Scheinberg has the ability to choose those projects that appeal to his flourishing designer's sense.

It's a long way from online poker to real-estate developing for the junior Scheinberg. Mark and his father, Isai, jointly founded PokerStars two decades ago. The site quickly rose to become the world's second-largest online poker site by 2004. PokerStars claimed that title from PartyPoker in late 2006, after PartyGaming and many other operators were forced to leave the U.S. market late that year, following the country's passage of its Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

PokerStars' decision to stay in the U.S. post-UIGEA carried significant level risks. Those were born out in 2011 with the notorious "Black Friday" crackdown targeting PokerStars and three other major US-facing sites. Ultimately, the Scheinbergs cashed out of the online-poker game, selling the entire Stars brand family to Amaya Gaming in 2014 for $4.9 billion.

Comparisons between online poker and hospitality industry

The Financial Post explores Mark Scheinberg's Mohari Hospitality projects, including an eco-friendly luxury resort in Costa Rica. Before digging into Scheinberg's past, the Post asked him to compare his former and current industries.

“PokerStars was based on people coming together online," Scheinberg told the Post, "and hospitality is all about people interacting with their physical surroundings and creating experiences for people to enjoy in a live setting. But despite the obvious differences, ultimately, PokerStars’ success was based on offering a best in class product, with best in class service and I see Mohari’s investments being a success by doing the same.”

Mohari remains a specialty player in the hospitality market, though with Scheinberg at the helm, the firm's future appears secure.

Junior Scheinberg not quite unscathed by Black Friday saga

The interview is the first for the junior Scheinberg since he and Isai sold the Stars brand to Amaya in 2014. In that aspect, in remaining intensely private despite his considerable prominence in the poker world, he's very much like his father, Isai. (The senior Scheinberg has given only two interviews since Black Friday, with the second of those two interviews appearing here at just a few days ago.)

Unlike father Isai, the Financial Post interview notes, Mark Scheinberg was not one of the 11 individual Black Friday defendants. However, the FP interview omitted the fact that the junior Scheinberg did not escape the decade-long saga unscathed. In 2013, as investigations into PokerStars' U.S.-facing financial activities continued, Mark Scheinberg reached a non-prosecution settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The central point in that deal was Scheinberg paying $50 million to escape the possibility he would be charged in a manner similar to his father.

Mark's father, Isai, eventually surrendered to U.S. authorities in March 2020, remained in the U.S. under DOJ detention for six months, and was then sentenced to time served while paying a nominal fine. Mark Scheinberg's more expensive but less risky option might not have worked out the best in monetary terms, but it did allow him greater freedom in pursuing his Mohari Hospitality dreams.

Featured image source: Undated PokerStars file photo