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2015 Poker Year In Review

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Feb 03, 2016


Last year saw the brick-and-mortar casino industry continue to expand, more states talking about regulating online poker, and continued excitement on the global poker tournament circuit. Here, Card Player brings you the year’s important stories from the gambling and poker world.

Casino Expansion in the Northeast

There were several new casinos to open in 2015, in states such as Arizona and Oregon, but once again, the major storylines came from the casino arms race in the Northeast. Late in 2015, Moody’s Investors Service said that at least eight new brick-and-mortar casinos, with collective investment topping $5 billion, are expected to open by the end of 2018 in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. The projects will greatly increase the gambling supply in the region. However, the new casinos could hurt existing properties in Atlantic City, once the only place for legal casino gambling in the Northeast. The casino industry is making it so one doesn’t have to drive too far to gamble anymore.

New York awarded three licenses to casino developers. Collectively, roughly $1.5 billion is being spent on new casinos in the Empire State. New York currently has nine racetrack casinos and five tribal casinos. The Northeast region is already home to more than 40 casinos and racinos, and New York wants a greater piece of the pie. New York said its residents spend $1 billion each year at out-of-state casinos.

Massachusetts’ casino plans were delayed in 2015, as projects from Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International both experienced setbacks. Wynn’s planned $1.7 billion casino in Everett, which sits just outside Boston, had to endure litigation from Boston because the city’s mayor wanted to block the project. In early December, a judge tossed one of the city’s lawsuits, helping clear the way for Wynn’s casino. Over in Springfield, MGM decided to reduce the size of its planned casino, though the investment increased from $800 million to $950 million.

With a dozen casinos, Pennsylvania is already the nation’s second-largest commercial casino gambling market behind Nevada, but officials there know the state needs more. Approval was finally given in 2015 to another casino in Philadelphia. The plan for a $500 million casino in South Philadelphia, to be called Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia, received its final approval from the City Council in December. The project now just needs to see the Pennsylvania Supreme Court uphold its license in 2016. SugarHouse Casino, the only other casino within city limits, wants the license invalidated.

Rhode Island didn’t add any additional gambling facilities in 2015, but its Twin River Casino did open a 16-table poker room in December, the only one in the state. Twin River received the okay to add house-banked table games just three years ago. The move to make Twin River into a more robust casino came not long after a slots casino opened up in neighboring Massachusetts in June.

Gaming revenue continued to tumble in New Jersey, prompting Garden State lawmakers to take additional steps toward allowing casinos outside Atlantic City. Late in 2015, plans were being hashed out for a referendum in November 2016 that, if successful, would amend the state constitution for two casinos in the North Jersey. The casinos must be at least 75 miles away from New York City, with proposals currently for the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford and another in Jersey City. Atlantic City has eight casinos after four closed in 2014.

Online Poker Legislation

The year 2015 came and went with no additional states passing laws to regulate online poker. Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware remain the only states with online gaming industries. Nevada and Delaware began sharing liquidity in March, but there’s been little to no benefit. Delaware online poker revenue is falling, just like it has in New Jersey, though overall I-gaming in the Garden State was at record levels at the end of 2015. Nevada doesn’t release data on its online poker industry, which is just two sites, though the WSOP-branded site has virtually the entire Silver State market.

California has long been considered the treasure of a rebooted U.S. online poker market. There were three bills on the table in 2015, and none of them passed. The silver lining was that one of the bills received a committee vote in the spring, marking the first time Golden State lawmakers have voted on an online poker bill. The bill remained a shell proposal for the rest of the year. The state will continue its efforts in 2016 to find consensus among the tribal gaming industry for regulated online poker.

Pennsylvania looked poised to legalize online gaming late in 2015 as lawmakers were searching for much-needed revenue streams for the 2016 state budget. Online poker was included in a larger gambling reform package, but the proposal was put on hold until the spring, despite multiple hearings in 2015. Eleven of the state’s casinos are either neutral or in support of online gaming.

New York held a hearing in early September on whether to regulate online poker in the future. The hearing was largely favorable to online casino games, but testimony did indicate that the games would likely not come until the new brick-and-mortar casinos are open. New York could be the largest online poker market among the states currently considering the activity, with the exception of California.

Thanks to the contemplation of regulating daily fantasy sports sites, this year Massachusetts showed that it is serious about online casino games. Like New York, the games likely wouldn’t be regulated until the new land-based casinos are taking bets, but state Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said in December that a possibly forthcoming “omnibus regulatory bill” would create oversight for DFS and online card games.

In the spring, Iowa’s lottery chief testified to state lawmakers that online poker, among other games, is needed to remain competitive. State lottery CEO Terry Rich said that an attorney general’s opinion indicated that the Iowa Lottery has the authority to conduct online gaming. Despite the comments, no progress was made on any legislative efforts to regulate the games in 2015. ♠

Clickable Poker Personalities of the Year

It doesn’t always take a huge tournament score or big win in the cash games for a poker player to be featured in the news. Every once in a while, a poker personality gets headlines for one reason or another, and escapes beyond the poker world bubble to catch the eye of the mainstream media. Here’s a look at those who got more than their fair share of attention in 2015.

Mainstream Publicity

High-stakes tournament pro Faraz Jaka got the attention of CNN Money early in the year for being a “homeless millionaire.” The business website got a kick out of the fact that Jaka essentially lived out of his suitcase, having traveled to “47 cities, 13 countries and been on 52 flights” in a single calendar year.

Although Phil Ivey spent much of the year in the courtroom battling over baccarat winnings, he did have time to land a deal with Chrysler, appearing in a couple of commercials titled The Kings and Queens of America to promote the car company.

In April, the poker world’s own Alex Jacob turned the popular quiz show Jeopardy! upside down with an unorthodox playing style that saw him win six straight contests and rack up more than $150,000. In November, he returned to the Tournament of Champions and won an additional $250,000. His run was enough to make him one of the top ten earners in the show’s history.

Vanessa Selbst appeared on the Steve Harvey Show on an episode titled Female Ground Breaker. The PokerStars pro, who is the winningest female in poker history, seemed very comfortable as she promoted poker to a national audience.

Poker pros have been no strangers to reality television in the past, and this year, Vanessa Rousso got her chance on the CBS show Big Brother. Rousso, whose occupation was unknown to her competitors, used an impressive yet manipulative strategy to make it to the final three players, but she was unable to win the $500,000 first-place prize.

Trouble With the Law

WSOP bracelet winner Darren Woods got 15 months in jail and a £1 million fine after a UK judge ruled that he cheated for years at online poker on several sites. If Woods doesn’t pay back the restitution, he will be looking at another six more years in prison.

Financially embattled Erick Lindgren was taken to federal court in Nevada for $2.5 million that PokerStars says they are owed. Most of the money was erroneously wired into Lindgren’s account when he was a Full Tilt Pro, but it’s nothing compared to the massive debts listed in his 2012 bankruptcy claim.

High-stakes poker player and social media star Dan Bilzerian got out of a felony charge in Nevada for detonating a homemade explosive by agreeing to record a public service announcement for the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Had he not been given the slap on the wrist, he was facing up to 12 years in prison.

Dan Shak, a high-stakes poker player who sometimes spends his tournament breaks making more money than is in the prize pool, was forced to pay a $100,000 fine to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission when he admitted to trying to manipulate the price of crude oil futures contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

After being indicted for using counterfeit poker chips at the Borgata, Christian Lusardi received a five-year sentence and was ordered to pay back the casino $463,540. Lusardi, who tried to flush the fake chips down the toilet of the casino, must also pay a $1.1 million fine for a separate case involving pirated DVDs.

Hollywood Comes Calling

In January, it was reported that screenwriter Cliff Dorfman was adapting the Doug Swanson book Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, into a script. Binion, who opened the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas where the WSOP was born, may one day become the subject of a movie, if the script is ever given the green light.

One movie that did get the go ahead was Mississippi Grind, starring Ryan Reynolds as a nomadic poker player who teams up with a degenerate gambler played by Ben Mendelsohn to try and make a high-stakes poker tournament in New Orleans. Although the movie did alright with the critics, audiences haven’t quite given it their seal of approval.

Vince Van Patten isn’t just a commentator on the World Poker Tour, he’s also an actor, and he’s recently written a script about the high-stakes world of L.A. gamblers that he will begin filming next year. The 58-year-old poker fanatic, who is also a former tennis pro, is working with producers Gary Marshall and David T. Friendly and hopes to begin casting soon.

They Did What?

Back in February, presidential hopeful Donald Trump scored a win for his brand when a judge ruled that the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City had to remove Trump’s name from the property. The move protected Trump from any hostile legal action while the casino was under bankruptcy protection and also got him further away from the gambling world, which might be seen by some as a political move.

The poker world got a huge celebrity endorsement at this summer’s WSOP from Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul, who played in the $10,000 buy-in main event. Paul, who also starred in Need For Speed and Exodus: Gods and Kings, did not make the money.

At one time, Archie Karas was a Las Vegas god, turning $50 into $40 million playing a variety of casino games, including poker against the likes of Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Chip Reese, and Johnny Moss. But that magical run isn’t going to ever happen again, at least not in Nevada, after the Gaming Commission issued him a lifetime ban from Nevada’s casinos.

The Poker World Says Goodbye

Although Sam Simon was known more for being a co-creator of The Simpsons, the poker world mourned his death as if he was one of their own. Simon battled colon cancer for three years before he passed away, having given most of his wealth to charitable causes. The 59-year-old was quite a poker player, having won $344,000 in live tournaments.

Cancer also claimed the life of legendary UK poker pro Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, who had more than $5 million in earnings, along with a WSOP bracelet and WPT title. Known for his outlandish sense of humor, Ulliott was one of the poker world’s most well-known personalities.

Although he passed in April, Paul “Eskimo” Clark’s death sadly went unnoticed for months in the poker world. The three-time bracelet winner had more than $2.7 million in career earnings dating back to 1988, but suffered through tough times in his later years.

Chad Batista was one of the original online poker stars, relying heavily on instinct and well-timed aggression, but Black Friday wasn’t kind to the Florida native and unfortunately, his depression led to drinking. In September, the 34 year old passed away from liver and kidney failure.

Other notable poker pros who passed away during the year included Robert Panitch, Norman Overdijk, Ellix Powers, Frank Vizza, and actor Dick Van Patten, who was a television announcer for the WSOP main event in the 90s. ♠

A Look at the 2015 Year In Tournaments

Before we head into the 2016 tournament circuit, we pause and look back at the last year in poker, remembering the events that shaped 2015 and made it one of the most thrilling years in tournament poker history.


Last year began in earnest for the tournament poker world with the start of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. Things kicked off with the $100,000 buy-in super high roller in the Bahamas. The 2015 tournament drew a record field of 66 entries and, in the end, Steve O’Dwyer came out on top, earning the $1,872,580 for the biggest score of his career. Kevin Shulz outlasted a field of 816 players in the PCA $10,300 main event to win $1,491,580.

The World Series of Poker Circuit made the news in January when a $365 buy-in no-limit hold’em event at Choctaw drew the tour’s largest-ever field – 4,053 entries. Ray Henson defeated Poker Hall of Famer T.J. Cloutier heads-up to win $197,588 and write his name in the history books.

As January wound down, the poker world took the long trek down under to Melbourne, Australia for the Aussie Millions. Hometown hero Manny Stavropoulos emerged victorious in the main event, winning $1,385,500 AUD after outlasting a field of 648 entries.

The series also played host to two massive super high roller events. Phil Ivey won the $250,000 buy-in event for the third time in four years, topping a field of 25 players this time to win $2,205,000 AUD. Malaysia’s Richard Yong took down the $100,000 buy-in event for $1,870,000 AUD.

As the big tournament action returned stateside, it was Anthony Zinno who took down the 2015 World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic $10,000 no-limit hold’em main event, topping a field of 538 players to win his second WPT main event of the year, having taken down the Fallsview Poker Classic just weeks earlier.

With these back-to-back wins on that tour, he became only the third player ever to win three WPT titles and took a big lead in the Card Player Player of the Year race. This was far from the last time Zinno would wind up in the winner’s circle in 2015.


The WPT kept rolling through California, with its next major stop being at the Bay 101 in San Jose. Taylor Paur emerged victorious in the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star main event, earning $1,214,200 for beating the field of 708 entries.

On the other side of the world, the European Poker Tour was approaching the climax of its 11th season. First came the inaugural EPT Malta, highlighted by a €5,300 no-limit hold’em main event that drew 895 players. France’s Jean Montury was the last player standing in that event, capturing his first EPT title and the €687,400 first-place prize.

The tour then closed its season with the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. Poker legend Erik Seidel won the €100,000 super high roller for €2,015,000 while young Spanish poker pro Adrian Mateos Diaz beat out 564 entries to win €1,082,000 in the tour’s ultimate main event.

With summer fast approaching, the World Poker Tour closed out its 13th season with the $15,000 WPT Championship main event at the Borgata in Atlantic City. There was a total of 239 entries in the event and, in the end, Brooklyn poker pro Asher Conniff was the victor, earning $973,683 for the win.


The WPT and EPT wrapped their seasons up just in time for what is always the marquee tournament series of the year, the World Series of Poker. The 2015 WSOP hosted 68 events, each awarding a gold bracelet. It’s impossible to cover each and every winner, but the six-week poker throwdown at the Rio did, of course, have some highlights.

There were numerous big names to take down bracelets this summer, including double winners Max Pescatori and Brian Hastings, Tuan Le, Shaun Deeb, Daniel Alaei, Jeff Madsen, Jason Mercier, Byron Kaverman, Eli Elezra, and Kevin MacPhee.

All-time bracelet leader Phil Hellmuth won his 14th WSOP title by taking down the $10,000 razz championship. He is now four bracelets ahead of his nearest competition, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey.

This year’s WSOP featured three high roller events. The $50,000 Poker Players Championship, which added Badugi and no-limit single draw deuce-to-seven lowball for the first time to become a ten-game mix, was won by Mike Gorodinsky for nearly $1.3 million. The $111,111 One Drop High Roller event raised more than $750,000 for charity and paid eventual champion and 2010 main event winner Jonathan Duhamel just shy of $4 million when he topped the field of 135 entries.

The final high roller event of the series was the inaugural $25,000 pot-limit Omaha event won by none other than Anthony Zinno, who scored his first gold bracelet and $1,122,196. With that, he took a stranglehold on the Player of the Year race, a lead which he never relinquished until securing the title at year’s end.

As always the centerpiece of the summer and the entire year as far as tournament poker was the WSOP $10,000 no-limit hold’em main event. This year there were 6,420 entrants, building a prize pool of $60,348,000. American poker pro Joseph McKeehen dominated the final table, converting a huge chip lead heading into the November Nine into his first bracelet, the $7,683,346 first-place prize and the title of 2015 world champion.

Outside of the Series, the biggest event of the summer was the $500,000 Super High Roller Bowl. A total of 43 players posted the half-million buy-in, but in the end, the last player remaining was Brian Rast, who won $7,525,000 after defeating Scott Seiver heads-up for the title.

Loni Harwood won the World Series of Poker Circuit’s season-ending National Championship event, capturing her second bracelet and $341,599 in early August.

The final month of summer was fairly quiet as the tournament scene goes, with the highlight of the month being the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open series. Omar Zazay came out on top in the $5,250 buy-in main event, winning $1 million dollars in the $5 million-guaranteed main event. Jason Mercier took down the $25,000 high roller on the same day to win $652,800 and his third title of the year.


As the weather began to cool things were still plenty hot on the tournament trail. The EPT Barcelona €5,300 no-limit hold’em main event was the largest event ever in the tour’s history, with 1,694 entries in total. In the end, John Juanda walked away as the champion with $1,186,208.

Stateside, the WPT Borgata Poker Open main event also drew a huge turnout. A total of 1,027 entries in the $3,500 main event made it one of the biggest in the tour’s history. David Paredes emerged victorious with his first WPT title and the $723,227 first-place prize.

In October the World Series of Poker Europe took place in Germany for the first time ever. Jonathan Duhamel came out on top in the €25,600 no-limit hold’em high roller event to win his third career WSOP gold bracelet and the $610,084 first-place prize. The €10,450 no-limit hold’em main event drew 313 players, with Kevin MacPhee hoisting his second bracelet in the end. For the win, the American poker pro earned $972,845.

Steve O’Dwyer bookended the year with another win in a super high roller. Having started with a title run at the PCA in January, he ended the year by taking down the EPT Prague €50,000 event for $816,666. The main event of that festival built a 1,044-player field, with 51-year-old Hossein Ensan coming out on top in the end.

The last big push of 2015 came at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Kevin Eyster beat a field of 639 entries in the $10,400 main event to win $1,587,382 and his second WPT title, while Fedor Holz emerged victorious in the year’s final six-figure buy-in event: the WPT Alpha8 Las Vegas $100,000 super high roller. For the win, the German pro earned $1,589,219 just days before Christmas. ♠

The Card Player Poker Tour Year in Review

Season III was a season of firsts on the Card Player Poker Tour. From first-time winners, to first time six-figure scores, to first-time stops in faraway destinations, there was never a shortage of action and excitement from January through December.

The tour saw three first-time major live tournament winners over the course of nine tour stops stretching from the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean to the snow-capped mountains of Reno, Nev.

Nick Weinberg not only scooped up his first tournament cash on the CPPT, the $38,625 he won during CPPT Atlantis in Reno, Nev. was also his first tournament win.

After making his first CPPT final table during Season II in the Bicycle Casino main event and finishing fourth, Adam Volen scored his first major live win a year later during Season III. Volen won the CPPT Hollywood Park Casino main event for an even $40,000.

Card Player Cruises, in conjunction with the CPPT, hosted its first land-based event at Casino Royale on the French-Dutch island of St. Maarten. Ernici Christophe emerged victorious in the main event, marking his first major live tournament win during the tour’s first time at Casino Royale in St. Maarten.

Maxim Sorokin, picked up his first six-figure score when he won the CPPT Wynn main event for $101,619.

Season III began Jan. 31, 2015 at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. Foxwoods regular and long-time pro Fred Paradis won the main event for $81,528, the largest live score of his seven-year career at the time.

The tour then stopped at the Wynn in Las Vegas and Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nev. before heading to Choctaw Resort Casino in Durant, Oklahoma. Poker pro Chan Pelton bested a field of 840 players to take home $130,445 in the Choctaw main event.

After several months on U.S. soil, the tour took a dip in international waters on the island of St. Maarten, then returned stateside for a stop at bestbet Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Fla. Writer and director Antony Vidmer picked up $83,838 for the main event win after besting a field of 390 players in the northern Florida cardroom. Vidmer noted at the time that, while it was not his biggest cash to date, in terms of the field size, the tournament was the largest he had ever won.

Not long after saying goodbye to the Florida sun, the tour was back in Caribbean waters for a poker cruise hosted by Card Player Cruises. Players spent eight days and seven nights traveling from The Bahamas, to St. Thomas to St. Maarten all while playing poker aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. Florida’s David Eller won the main event for $7,350.

The season wound down to Southern California, stopping at both The Bicycle Casino and Hollywood Park Casino.

Oddie Dardon picked up the biggest score of the season when he won The Bicycle main event for $155,735. The California pro outlasted a field of 521 players to win big at one of his favorite places to play.

Season IV of the Card Player Poker Tour begins in January. For more information, visit ♠