ML - Vegas Magazine

2013 - Issue 5 - September

Vegas Magazine - Niche Media - There is a place beyond the crowds, beyond the ropes, where dreams are realized and success is celebrated. You are invited.

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Page 67 of 163

DESERT PATROL A former magician, Antonio Esfandiari now just makes his opponents' chips disappear. old is ranked number one in the world in all-time tournament poker winnings, says trust is the main reason he decided to become the brand ambassador for Ultimate Poker, the first legal real-money poker website in the US. "A lot of shady things have happened with online poker sites in the past," he says. "Yet when Ultimate Poker approached me, it was a no-brainer, mostly because of the people involved with running it." He's referring to Golden Nugget and Wynn alum Tom Breitling, Esfandiari's mentor, who owns and operates the site with several other prominent figures in the gaming and technology arenas. Ultimate Poker's launch signals the resurrection of online gaming in the US, which was booming until the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 made it illegal to transfer funds to play. The collapse of poker websites in the following years meant that many pro playMuscle relaxer: ers lost a steady income stream from "One or two competing on and serving as spokespeople times a week for sites such as PokerStars and Full Tilt you'll find me at the Aria spa for a Poker. But not Esfandiari. "I wasn't a huge massage." fan of online poker back in the day," he says, Taste test: "The "because it was kind of a gray area." That all grilled beef liver changed when the Department of Justice at Raku is my paved the way for states to oversee gaming favorite." sites within their borders. Nevada legalized Internet poker this past February. "Now that it's regulated, legal, safe, and secure," he says, "I'm way more interested in playing online." What does legal online poker mean for those whose livelihoods depend on people leaving their homes and heading to the Strip? Esfandiari reassures locals who think Internet gambling is detrimental to the city's economy. "It's the opposite," he says. "Online poker will actually create jobs." The card champ points out that he and most of his pro friends like to compete both on the computer and in person: "Nobody is going to stop going to the casino just because they can play online." And fledgling players who can now learn poker online will translate into additional revenue for casinos that host tournaments and cash games, as these newbies embark on quests to perfect their poker skills. More importantly, Esfandiari says, Nevada now has CARD SHARK ANTONIO ESFANDIARI SHOWS HIS HAND AS bragging rights as the first place in the US to offer legal THE BRAND AMBASSADOR FOR THE COUNTRY'S FIRST LEGAL online poker (beating out New Jersey and thus Atlantic REAL-MONEY POKER WEBSITE. BY AARON RASMUSSEN City by several months), and Vegas's reputation for being on the cutting edge will ensure that it continues to be a destination for tourists from around the world. "Atlantic City is great, but if you go to some little town in the middle of y word is more important to me than any amount of money," says professional poker player Antonio "The Magician" Italy or Spain or Australia and you ask them, 'Have you heard of Atlantic City?' they probably haven't heard of Jersey as much as they've heard of Esfandiari. "All you have in this world is your word." It's a curious sentiment for a man who has raked in more than $23 mil- Las Vegas, Nevada," he says. "I think people expect Nevada to be the first, lion playing a game that relies on bluffing. Yet Esfandiari, who at 34 years and we have lived up to that standard. It's a great thing." V INSIGHT "M 66 PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIC ITA Turning the Tables VEGASMAGAZINE.COM 066_V_SP_DP_Antonio_Sept13.indd 66 8/5/13 7:58 PM

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