Phil Nagy is a man who doesn’t like to stand still. Having spent more than a decade as CEO of the Winning Poker Network and turning Americas Cardroom (ACR) into a competitor to industry leaders like PokerStars and GGPoker, and more recently becoming a vociferous advocate of using cryptocurrency to make payments (ACR accepts over 60 of them), he is now a passionate adopter of NFTs and believes they can change the world for the better.
Nagy says that NFTs – non-fungible tokens – have the power to bring immutable truth to the internet; they prove you own something or a piece of it; they are a contract that cannot possibly be changed or challenged.
While some skeptics see the explosion of NFTs as an artificial speculation bubble, Nagy wants to explore new use cases of the underlying blockchain technology platforms that will benefit everybody. In particular, he wants NFTs, and the blockchain where they are stored, to protect the truth. And he is putting himself out there as an evangelist to bring about positive change.
The example he uses is of a witness or whistleblower. “This area is huge. Imagine the facts from a witness or whistleblower – these can now be placed as an NFT on the blockchain,” he explains. “It can be anonymous, there is no need for the witness to go to court, or there is no need to go in the witness protection program – the truth is there, and it cannot be taken away. I believe this can truly change the world. What you say and do can be immortalized together.”
Nagy’s enthusiasm is infectious, but there will be those who scoff at the notion. Many people don’t “get” NFTs. “People are unwilling to understand NFTs, just as back in the day, the same folks did not get crypto. But then they got crypto, so soon NFTs will be normalized, too,” Nagy said.
Poker players are something of an exception. Nagy loves the game and says the community has a history of early adoption of technology and being forward-thinking. “Poker players get crypto and NFTs. They have a natural curiosity. In a poker game, they have to figure out a range based on incomplete information. Logic guides them, and as new information emerges as a hand plays out, they change their line.
“That’s why poker players are early adopters of crypto and NFTs; they can see the logic where others might not. It’s the same with chess players – I bet many of them are early adopters, too. They and poker players share the same thought processes.”
It was a fellow player – one of the game’s biggest names – who introduced Nagy to the potential of NFTs. That man was Chris Moneymaker, credited with playing a big part in the online poker boom after winning the WSOP Main Event in 2003 having qualified on PokerStars.
“I introduced Phil to Zed Racing, the virtual horse racing game using NFT and blockchain technology,” Moneymaker said. “In typical Phil fashion, he ignored it for weeks. And then he was, like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this before?’. He totally got it. And then he wanted to know everything he could about NFTs.”
Moneymaker, now an ambassador at ACR, says poker players are natural adopters of blockchain technology. “Yes, they are naturally inquisitive,” he said, “but also a big part of the reason is that it makes it so much easier to move money around. In poker, that’s important – for instance, I can shift some money to Las Vegas in minutes.”
JPMorgan and the truth
Let’s rewind four years to 2017. While the world had become more accustomed to cryptocurrency, and Bitcoin was the poster boy for investors, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, came out and said Bitcoin was a fraud. He didn’t want his people investing in it, and he likened the currency to “tulips,” a reference to the mass buying and then panic selling of tulip bulbs in the Netherlands back in the 1600s (yes, that was a thing).
The comments sent Nagy into a rage at the time. “I was shocked,” he said, “not least because it caused the price to dip, and my wealth took a hit. But also because I didn’t believe a person like Dimon could get where he is without understanding the concept of cryptocurrencies. Why could he comment as an expert on someone else’s investments in this way; threaten employees who invested in Bitcoin with the sack?
“It was crypto harassment! Ignorant and dumb. As a poker player, I follow the logic, and what he was saying made no sense. You could not get away talking about a corporation like IBM or Microsoft like that – you would be in jail.
“I was mad about it. So I made the YouTube video at the time venting my anger.
“Anyway, two years on, and JPMorgan comes out with its own internal blockchain and coin. Instead of having to move all its money through international red tape and pay foreign exchange fees, it could do so seamlessly over the blockchain and save an awful lot of cash. It moves trillions of dollars each year! In fact, it will save so much money I should now invest in JPMorgan.
“I was so angry with this ‘flip-flop’ that I published a piece on LinkedIn at the time.”
Now with an interest in NFTs, thanks to Moneymaker’s introduction, Nagy decided to test his theory that they could be a protector of the truth.
“You can now buy NFTs of fine art, photography, and stuff like that. Yes, you can rip off a copy for free, but it’s like paintings – anyone can own a print, but only one person can own the original.
“I wanted to learn more, so I spent about nine hours one Sunday learning how to make an NFT. I then paid a friend around $300 to make sure I was doing it right. I made NFTs – 250,000 of them – for the article I wrote on LinkedIn about Dimon’s comments and the Youtube video. I was selling pieces of the truth – and you can now own a piece of that truth about what the reality was about Dimon’s comments.
“You can buy my NFTs for around $2 each. I couldn’t give them away – the principle is that people need to want to own the truth. I purchased one for Dimon; he’s going to have to message me to get possession of it!
“This is not a money-making exercise for me; I have other channels to make money. It is, however, something I am passionate about, and this exercise helps raise the profile of NFT potential. We need to rethink the logic; we must preserve crypto and NFTs, and no one should be able to manipulate the market because absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“I am transparent about my passion for crypto and now NFTs as a way of protecting the truth, and for that, I would like to think I am something of a visionary.
“I want to spread the word, get on podcasts and make real-world use cases where NFTs can make a significant difference to our lives.”
It started with crypto back in 2009
Nagy has been a crypto evangelist for many years, but it was a slow start. He explains: “Back in 2009 or so, someone pitched me the idea of buying Bitcoin. I thought, ‘So this is a coin that’s not actually a coin, it’s made by a computer somewhere, and you can’t physically hold it. WTF?’
“I did not understand it and moved on. Then, around late in 2011, a friend suggested I buy $100 of Bitcoin, so I figured I’d take another look at it. He got me to download an app, and I remember seeing a QR code and somehow making a purchase. Pretty soon, my holding said $101, and I was, like, why is that? He explained the price was going up.
“That was it for me. I called my assistant and told them to clear my diary for the day so that I could read up on crypto. My friend described it at a high level, how it was verified on the blockchain by hundreds of different computers, and that my transaction and ownership were beyond doubt as a result.
“I instantly saw some benefits for being able to use crypto to move wealth between two parties without any borders – physical and monetary.
“I’m a poker player, so I just had to understand more about how things work. Folks lost me for a while because I was investigating not just Bitcoin but Ethereum and different coins. I could see incredible value for a business.
“When you sell a product, perhaps cars, or maybe you have a franchise like McDonald’s or Starbucks, everyone talks about getting the product right and how the location is important. But back in 2011, no one was talking about how people would give you their money. I, however, saw Bitcoin as like the top of a funnel, where transactions were placed; I saw how the world could change if everything flowed through it.
“I spent three or four months getting my head around the subject and talking to folks, many of whom could not relate to crypto at all, and there was not a lot of interest, to be honest. If people don’t understand, they don’t want to know.
“I found that odd. I mean, everyone trusts Visa or Mastercard, and they are happy to use it. But none of them know how Visa works, in a technical sense at least. So why trust Visa but not Bitcoin? You really don’t need to know how something works to use it.
“I continued my learning; I got a server, I learned about e-wallets. Fast forward to today, and we, as in Winning Poker Network (of which ACR is part), are one of the biggest potential use cases for crypto. As I have said at gaming conferences, ‘Look, you can pay customers in seconds. They can deposit fast; there are no fees or delays you get with other payment processors.’
“There are now many cryptocurrencies, of course, and I didn’t know if Bitcoin, Ethereum, or the rest was best, so I offered our customers a choice of more than 60. So that’s 60 cryptocurrencies you can use to deposit on ACR.”
The process has become so mainstream that Nagy insists it won’t be long before similar trust evolves for NFTs.
“I will keep talking about it,” he insists. “I want to go on podcasts and feature in relevant articles, and together we can make good things happen that benefit everyone.”