Black Friday has put tens of thousands of professional poker players out of work. Some now grind in brightly lit casinos, while others have quit all together, taking up “regular” jobs. Many have flocked to smaller sites and networks that continue to serve the United States like Cake and Merge. However, depositing big chunks of cash is too risky and withdrawing funds too long of a process. With no other alternatives, a small, dedicated few have gone a step further, relocating to poker-friendly locales around the world. They have packed up to play.
Moving abroad is a daunting proposition for most. However, it may be easier than you think. There are hundreds of agencies and services to help people set up. One outfit that caters specifically to poker players: PocketFives’ Poker Refugees program, which is located in San José and helps players find housing and open bank accounts in Canada, Panama, and Costa Rica for $1k a pop. It also provides other services like finding high-speed internet (with backup connection to boot) and providing referrals to English-speaking accountants and lawyers.
Poker Refugees, though still in its embryonic stages, looks promising. The program’s draw is its convenience. For mid and high stakes players, $1k is not a lot to avoid visa applications and house hunting. It’s well run, too. Kristin Wilson, who has helped hundreds of people relocate to Central America since 2005, leads the program. Wilson has been around the online poker industry for the last decade and specialises in residential and commercial leasing in Costa Rica. She has been a licensed member of the Costa Rica Global Association of Realtors (CRGAR) for five years.
Since inception on August 16, Poker Refugees has relocated more than 20 Americans to Canada, Panama, and Costa Rica and the program has received hundred of applications. Poker Refugees and rival businesses like Tico Tours in Costa Rica have recently seen an uptick in business due to the 2011 World Championships of Online Poker (WCOOP). Business will continue to grow until the United States can pass legislation regulating online poker.
Prominent high stakes players have made the move. Daniel Negreanu traded Las Vegas for hometown Toronto, while Phil Galfond moved to British Columbia this summer and Daniel Cates to Portugal. More and more players are leaving the United States, including Randy Lew, Isaac Haxton and Justin Bonomo. Where are you packing up to play?
Area: 9,984,670 km2
Languages: English and French
Currency: Canadian Dollar (CAD)
GDP Per Capita: $46,215
Easiest relocation option; favourable tax laws on gambling; tour stops and live poker scene; similar lifestyle and culture to the United States; U.S. citizens can stay in the country for up to 180 days on a tourist visa that must be renewed every three months by leaving the country for 72 hours
Brag: Closest (physically and culturally) to the United States; easiest option
Beat: Daniel Negranu; brutal winters
Recommendation: British Columbia and Montreal (if you can afford it)
Capital: San José
Area: 51,100 km2
Currency: Costa Rican Colón (CRC)
GDP Per Capita: $7,843
Large English-speaking population; vibrant night life; beautiful beaches; frequent flights to and from the United States; high standard of living; moderate cost of living; U.S. citizens can stay in the country for up to 90 days on a tourist visa that must be renewed every three months by leaving the country for 72 hours
Brag: Beautiful country with gambling roots and live poker scene
Beat: High speed internet can cost as much $200 a month
Recommendation: Escazu and Santa Ana
Population: 3,405,8 13
Capital: Panama City
Area: 75,517 km2
Currency: Balbao (PAB); US Dollar (USD)
GDP Per Capita: $12,577
Americanized economy and culture; U.S. Dollar accepted; vibrant night life; highly industrialized; beautiful beaches; reliable infrastructure; U.S. citizens can stay up to 180 days on a tourist visa by leaving the country for 72 hours
Brag: Beautiful; low cost of living
Beat: Major transit point for US-bound drugs and illegal immigrants
Recommendation: Panama City
Please note: Regardless of where you live in the world, as a U.S. citizen you are required to report any international earnings and offshore bank accounts to the IRS. Seriously, don’t mess with Uncle Sam. Pay your taxes.