Steffen Sontheimer's bank threw him out for gambling

Jon Pill
Posted on: August 21, 2020 10:26 PDT

Steffen Sontheimer’s bank in Germany has given him four weeks to roll up his cash and get out of Dodge. Commerzbank reportedly told Sontheimer that it was because his business account was associated with gambling.

According to Sontheimer himself, poker profits are taxable in Germany, though only for consistently winning players.

Sontheimer has $13 million in live tournament cashes alone. So he can probably be assumed to be in that category.

The apparent result is that a tax-paying citizen of Germany had his bank accounts shut down because the source of his money was distasteful to the bank, but not the state.

A rich man’s world

Sontheimer announced the problem on Twitter and received a great deal of sympathy. Most people were quick to point out the irony of a big bank chastising anyone for gambling.

Though at least one commenter with a background in finance pointed out that: “The sheer amount of KYC [Know Your Client] and vetting a bank is put through now when cash is involved, or when $ comes form foreign countries is crazy. After Black Friday I got a check for poker, and bank calls me (employee) and asks why funds went through multiple countries.”

Legal high… stakes

This is a particular problem because poker has an odd status in Germany. Until recently all online gambling was illegal except with the handful of locally licensed companies. In January this year, German officials sent letters to banks ordering them to do a better job of policing gambling funds. This happened even as the legislation to legalize online poker was being hammered out in the Reichstag.

This meant that playing online poker on international sites was prohibited. Given that most sites have their servers on offshore centers like Alderney or Antigua this already limits the German player’s options.

This is currently changing. A law passed in July made it possible for a wider range of online gambling companies to apply for licenses. These started with sports betting sites but that too is expanding. Soon there will be a much better online market for poker players.

Even so, banks often shun gambling customers to avoid reputational damage, and because gambling is considered a high-risk area for money laundering.

The high-roller circuit hugely curtailed thanks to COVID. So Sontheimer’s usual live waters aren’t available to him. While he waits for legal online poker Sontheimer might have to look at moving countries. A shame for Germany, since the tax on his profits is likely to be considerable.

Though he may want to be careful where he goes instead.