Jason Senti was at work Friday when he got the equivalent of a termination notice. For Senti, work is earning a living primarily playing online poker from an elaborate Twin Cities home office. His seventh-place finish at last year's World Series of Poker Texas Hold 'em main event was worth more than $1 million, but his day job is still grinding away at several tables at a time online.
On Friday, however, the three largest sites -- including Full Tilt Poker and Poker Stars, the two Senti uses regularly -- were shut down as part of a massive sweep that included the indictments of the sites' founders. The domain names of the sites were seized by the FBI.
"All the sudden people started calling me and saying it was shut down," Senti said. "I was like, 'I don't know what you're talking about. I'm playing right now.' "
But when he tried to join a new table, Senti found he couldn't. Now he and millions of poker players are left in a strange limbo state. The Poker Players Alliance, an advocacy group with more than 1 million members, issued a statement that included this: "Not only are the over 10 million online poker players left without a place to play the game they enjoy, and from which many earn their livelihood, but they also have concerns over the availability of their funds."
Senti fits those descriptions. Friday was a triple-whammy: The sites he plays on were shut down, the money he had banked on the sites was frozen ... and he made the final payment on his 2010 taxes.
"It's kind of like losing your job and having a reverse severance package," Senti said.
What happens next remains to be seen. The legality and regulation of online gambling in the United States are nebulous areas. Senti, who quit his job as an engineer a few years back to become a full-time poker player, had it in the back of his mind that a day like Friday could come.
"Two years ago I was more worried about it than I was on Thursday. But there's nothing explicitly making online poker illegal in the U.S.," Senti said. "I knew it was possible that some organization could come after poker in the U.S. But I really thought that likelihood was going way down. I didn't think anyone was going to come kicking down the door."
The only "silver lining," he said, is that this shakeup could lead to regulation of the industry in the United States. In the short term, however, the impact is more personal for Senti and others like him.
"It's definitely going to impact my day-to-day," he said. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it yet, but I still plan to play poker for a living."