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Mashantucket — Bryan Leskowitz remembers the date like it’s an important birthday or anniversary. Or maybe D-Day.
It’s April 15, 2011, “Black Friday,” the day the federal government shut down three of the most popular poker websites operating in the United States, freezing players’ bankrolls and complicating an online gaming universe that already was kind of murky.
“They’re still holding some of my money — about $100,000,” Leskowitz said Monday during a break in the World Series of Poker Circuit’s main event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “Apparently, we’re going to get paid.”
Until then, Leskowitz and others like him are playing plenty of live poker, much of it at Foxwoods, which has long billed itself as the home of the biggest and busiest poker room on the East Coast.
Some believe the legalization of online gaming — particularly poker — is all but inevitable and that when it happens, it’s likely to spark a second explosion in the game’s popularity. (The first occurred when Chris Moneymaker won the main event at the 2003 WSOP after qualifying on a poker website.)
“I think they will (legalize online poker) federally in a couple of years,” said Leskowitz, 29, of Leominster, Mass. “It’s going to help the live game. Right now, a lot of people have bankrolls tied up.”
Thirty-year-old James Campbell of Marlboro, Mass., like Leskowitz a professional player, said he, too, was “shot down” online in 2011.
“But online’s legal in Nevada, now, and it will be soon in New Jersey,” Campbell said, fresh from winning a $49,825 first prize in one of the preliminary WSOP events at Foxwoods. “I see another boom in live poker coming. Online should help the game a lot.”
Juan DeJesus, Foxwoods’ poker tournament director, said most professional players prefer live play over the online variety. But, he said, there’s no denying that poker websites offered a good value.
“Twenty bucks could get you into an online game with a big payoff,” he said.
At Foxwoods, 591 entrants bought into the WSOP Circuit’s main event, a No-Limit Hold ’em tournament, each putting up $1,675 for a prize pool of $888,568. Play began Saturday in two flights, and nearly 200 players advanced to the second day of the event, with the field narrowed to 11 by the end of play Sunday night. Another player threw in his chips 20 minutes after play resumed at noon Monday, leaving 10 at the “final table.”
Nearly eight hours later, Jason Strasser of New York City claimed the biggest win of his career, outlasting Wesley Wyvill of Alexandria, Va., after 2½ hours of head-to-head play. Strasser took home $186,600 and a champion’s ring, and earned a seat at the WSOP Circuit’s national championship event at Caesars Atlantic City casino next May. Wyvill’s second-place prize came to $115,069.
Leskowitz, the player from Leominster, finished fourth, winning $62,555.
The 12 WSOP Circuit events in 12 days at Foxwoods were the first of the 2013-14 season. Foxwoods has hosted the circuit for two seasons, following the end of the casino’s 10-year association with the World Poker Tour.