Poker Hall of Fame profile: Isai Scheinberg

Jon Sofen
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Posted on December 9, 2020 2:19 pm EST

PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg makes an interesting case for the 2020 Poker Hall of Fame class. But if he’s this year’s selection, you can rest assured there will be many angry poker fans, and also some very happy ones.

Scheinberg is one of the most controversial candidates for the exclusive club ever. That is because he wasn’t a player and would have to be inducted as a “builder,” and also for his criminal activity.

Despite his questionable past, he’s one of the most important figures in poker history. And for that reason, feuding poker pros Shaun Deeb and Daniel Negreanu have found some common ground — both think Isai Scheinberg should be in the Poker Hall of Fame.

In September, nine years after the fact, Scheinberg was sentenced to time served and a $30,000 fine for his role in the Black Friday scandal. He was extradited to New York for sentencing. The innovative businessman was one of 11 poker site executives indicted in 2011 on charges of bank wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

He was the final person indicted in the Black Friday scandal to receive sentencing. The Israeli faced up to 18 months in prison, but was instead told he need not spend any additional time behind bars.

Due to his criminal past, some poker fans don’t believe he deserves induction into the Hall of Fame. And others simply don’t feel he’s worthy based on the fact that he wasn’t a player. But he certainly has an interesting case.

What Isai Scheinberg did for poker

Isai Scheinberg, 73, and his son Mark Scheinberg, founded PokerStars in 2011. The poker site would soon grow to become the most popular place in the world to play poker online, and it still is to this day.

When Scheinberg launched PokerStars, he took a chance on an unproven industry. In 2001, poker wasn’t a mainstream game and online poker was far from popular. But he saw potential and believed he could help grow the industry and make millions of dollars. He was dead right.

Strangely enough, Scheinberg’s criminal activity sort of made him a poker legend. On April 15, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice forced the shutdown on the top poker sites in America, which included PokerStars and its biggest rival, Full Tilt Poker.

American players on Full Tilt Poker were in deep trouble as the site was mismanaged, leaving reserve funds unavailable to pay outstanding player account balances. Over on PokerStars, however, that wasn’t the case. The poker site Scheinberg founded was in good financial shape and, as a result, was able to pay out its U.S. players.

In a bizarre twist, nearly two years later, despite facing federal charges, Scheinberg reached a deal with U.S. District Attorney Preet Bahara to acquire Full Tilt Poker for $731 million, and then pay out Full Tilt’s customers in full.

He never had to do that. In fact, despite reaching a deal with the DOJ, Scheinberg’s federal charges weren’t dropped. It was just the right thing to do, so he agreed to it.

In 2014, Scheinberg’s son sold PokerStars to Amaya Inc. (now The Stars Group) for $4.9 billion. In 13 years, the Scheinbergs turned millions into billions. And in doing so, they helped build the online poker industry almost from the ground up.

The Poker Hall of Fame class of 2020, which will only include one member, will be announced December 30 in Las Vegas during the WSOP Main Event final table. Perhaps that individual will be Isai Scheinberg.

Featured image source: Twitter