Here’s One More Way To Make A Living Here

Poker players flock here to avoid fussy U.S. laws

Korean born Guatemalan-American Yoonsuk Oh goes by Nick, and is standing in his kitchen making a pot of tea. He shares this modest beach house with a good buddy, and is sharing with me stories of how he got to where he is today: living in Rosarito as a professional on-line poker player. As he pours his tea, I take in his home: in one area of the living room sit three desktop computers with huge auxiliary monitors arranged in a semi circle. At the other end of the room sits a 13’’ Macbook laptop. He points to the laptop and says, “That’s mine.” All the other equipment is his buddy Ben’s, who is also making a profession of being an online poker player.

Nick Oh plays online poker as a career, putting in six to eight hours a day. This Wednesday afternoon Nick is not on a lunch break, but just beginning his workday as a self-proclaimed top online poker player. His opponents know him as Mused01, and he typically plays headsup, a one-on-one game, with one or two tables. His earnings average $1,000 to $2,000 a day, five days a week. He says a typical day for the average online poker player in Rosarito consists of tournaments with two to six tables and winnings of $200-$300 a day. Most serious players stay at it six to eight hours a day, five days a week.

“Yes, I love my job and the game,” says Nick as he reminisces about the day he started playing poker. While still in high school, he and his friend would play a lot of on-line video games. One day, his friend bet $50 at an online poker tournament, and walked away with $250! That became the first day of Nick’s career as a professional online poker player. Nick jokes, “If he lost, I would’ve never played!” Nick’s earnings supported him through the remainder of high school, through college, and still supports him to this day. Like Nick, many of the poker players living in Rosarito have been playing since high school. However, according to Nick, the game is not as easy as you think: “Playing poker requires skills.” Nick emphasizes the importance of emotional discipline when playing poker, as well as studying theories and the fundamentals of how the game works. “I have seen people go broke here in Rosarito because they do not put in the work.”

2006 marked the beginning of big problems for the online poker industry. The U.S government revised the internet gaming law, stopping credit card processors from processing money coming in from online gambling sites. However, people managed to continue gambling online until 2011, because of a loophole: the law did not spell out  specifically what an online gambling site was. Nick recalls starting his first year at the University of California, Irvine, and how difficult it had become to transfer his earnings from a poker site to his bank account. Five years later in 2011 (on tax day, ironically), the U.S. Department of Justice issued an indictment against the three largest online poker sites: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. As a result, Nick turned to smaller sites to play, but there was not much money to be made there.

After the shock wore off, players started to leave the United States, moving all over the world, to places friendlier to their lifestyle. Vancouver, Playa del Carmen, and Rosarito all became favorite online poker communities. Close to Nick’s previous home in Orange County, Rosarito makes an appealing place for Nick to live the dream inexpensively while playing online poker. 

For Nick and others, however, the initial draw to Rosarito was the presence of online poker guru Bryan Oliver. ‘The Godfather,’ as Oliver has come to be known, is credited with starting the online poker movement here in Rosarito. When Oliver posted a thread on 2+2 (an online poker forum,) the first phase of online poker players started flocking to Rosarito. Oliver’s post praised Rosarito, calling it amazing and detailing the process of getting set up to play poker here. Since then approximately 200 people have migrated to Rosarito to play on-line poker, and they show no signs of leaving anytime soon. Nick remembers the impact of that influx on the local economy, recalling Susanna’s in particular, whose owner had to open her establishment’s basement to players, just to make room for all of her new customers.

Nick remembers the early days, when he and his many poker buddies were living the party lifestyle, “Those were the good times,” Nick says. Today players are taking it easy and taking the game more seriously, as it has become more difficult to play: “The learning curve is too high for someone to start as a beginner, it would take a lot of work to catch up,” he explains.

Nick is not quite 30 and says this is his best year yet. Sitting back in his plush leather chair, Nick talks about his plans to sit and play for a few more years. Many pro online poker players from Rosarito live the glamourous life, traveling the world, but Nick is unsure what the future holds. For now, he says, “I have plenty of time.”