Monday, 26 May 2014

Poker Refugees: Crossing borders to get in the game!

In the aftermath of Black Friday, Kristin Wilson saw a great opportunity and grabbed it. The native Floridian, ex pro surfer turned real-estate entrepreneur, embarked on new adventure that would result in more or less constant travelling across the Americas and Europe - all in the name of online poker. 

Working in Costa Rica
Poker Refugees has made it their business to offer poker players help to relocate to friendlier and more tolerant online gambling jurisdictions and provide the assistance to make the move as easy as possible. The Poker Refugees team is spread out all over the globe and will make sure that clients will adjust to their new location smoothly and hassle-free in order to be able to focus on what they came there to do – play online poker.

The services that Poker Refugees are providing for the soon-to-be-in-exile poker players includes everything from practical help in sorting out accommodation, internet providers and contact with the local poker community to referrals to local lawyers, accountants and any other specialized professionals that might come in handy.

Kristin and her team is primarily operating on the American and European continent. Some of the more popular destinations where Poker Refugees has been relocating poker players to are Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Malta, Holland, Hungary, Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom.

BankrollMob had the great pleasure to ask Kristin a few questions about Poker Refugees, the past, the present and the future.


BankrollMob: Hi Kristin, could you tell us how you came up with the idea of Poker Refugees? Were you a big fan of online poker before you started relocating players? Do you play a lot now?

Kristin: The idea of Poker Refugees came about on the actual day of Black Friday. As soon as I saw the press release from the DOJ, I knew what I had to do. It was like an epiphany. I immediately started messaging pro poker players on Facebook to see if they wanted help moving to Costa Rica and began developing the Poker Refugees concept everyday after I got home from work. With the help a poker forum, we launched officially in August 2011 although I had already started relocating players as early as 2 weeks after BF.

Although I don’t have a poker background, there were a combination of factors that led up to the idea. First and foremost, I have always had a love for travel. I have been traveling internationally since I was 16 and studying abroad and living in foreign countries by myself since I was 20. I used to be a competitive surfer and spent a lot of time on tour, which is similar to a live poker tour with its own subculture – just imagine swapping casinos and chips for beaches and waves. At the same time, I was going to college, majored with a degree in International Business and then got an MBA. Eschewing the idea of corporate America and cubicles, I decided to accept a position at an international real estate franchise in Costa Rica in 2005 while my classmates went on to work at multinationals. I was already fluent in Spanish, but working in real estate throughout Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, I helped a lot of foreign investors and retirees move down to Central America over the years and gained a lot of experience helping people continue their lives or start businesses in new environments. CR was also the heart of the online gaming industry since its inception, so I witnessed the boom years up close and personal. When Black Friday happened, I found myself with a combination of very unique skills and knowledge that I thought would extremely be helpful to professional poker players while things got sorted out in the US. Today, we help players from nearly any country in the world, so it’s been very exciting and interesting. I never would have imagined that this would be my job someday!

I’m actually a little fish at poker since I never learned formally, just from playing Hold ‘em with friends during college. At this point, I’ve watched probably a million hands since I’m always with poker players, railing at tournaments and I live with my boyfriend who is also a poker player. My sister is actually engaged to a tournament player who was one of my first clients, so poker is definitely in the family now!  I understand everything – including the poker slang that used to sound like a foreign language to me. Unfortunately, until now, my poker career starts and ends with play money on Stars. Maybe someday I’ll take some lessons from the pros I’m helping out! At the moment, I’m always so busy and I spend enough time at the computer. I also know enough to know that I should leave the poker to the poker players since it takes so much time and dedication to get good; there’s so much competition. My brain works better at relocation and logistics anyway; this complements what the players need very well.

BankrollMob: First time we were in contact you were in Costa Rica getting ready for a trip to Mexico. You seem to travel a lot. Where are you now and where are you going next?

Kristin in one of her many offices
Kristin: I just arrived to the US last night and will probably be here through WSOP. I spent the beginning of the year in Europe, then Costa Rica, and was just in Mexico for May during Pokerstars’ SCOOP. We launched a new package this year where players could fly over and grind SCOOP from a beachfront condo, as long as they were non-US players or fully relocated US players. We handled everything for so all they had to focus on were poker and having fun. The packages included round-trip airport transportation, accommodations, maid service, upgraded internet, back up
internet, all monthly bills & utilities plus a local orientation guide to help them adjust quickly to their surroundings. We were also there in person to make sure that they had everything they needed. We will probably offer a similar package for WCOOP after summer ends. I’ve actually been living out of a suitcase since December 2012, just making sure that our services are equally developed in all locations and in order to meet as many of our clients as I can in person. Traveling and living on the road myself in foreign countries continually deepens my local knowledge in each destination and helps me stay in touch with the lifestyle our clients are experiencing themselves as expatriates.

BankrollMob: How many poker players have you relocated so far?

Kristin: We are close to surpassing the 400-player mark! It sounds cheesy, but it’s really been such an honor to help so many people follow their poker dreams. It’s infinitely fulfilling. Even when we are met with challenges or having a hard day, I just read some of the nice messages and testimonials from former clients and remember why we are here and the impact we have on people’s lives. It has been very rewarding to help other people succeed in their own careers, achieve their goals and put all of the knowledge and experience I’ve acquired in the past decade to good use. I have a lot of respect for anyone who is self-employed, motivated and taking risks to do what they love every day instead of following the status quo. Most of our players are quite young also, so it’s cool to help them achieve what they want at such a young age. A lot of them are nervous about moving or don’t have support from their families so we can help them feel comfortable since they are definitely not alone.

Kristin meeting up with Costa Rica poker clients at WSOP in Vegas


BankrollMob: Are all these players only from the US or are players from other countries using Poker Refugees as well?

Kristin: Although the idea for Poker Refugees was spurred by Black Friday and helping US players, over time more of our clients are now from other countries, especially those in the EU. European players benefit quite a bit from the relocation services. Many of them are affected by regulation in their own countries, or they may just want to move to change time zones or live in a nice climate. Whatever the reason, we can help. We have relocated French players to the UK, Spanish players to Mexico, German players to Austria and Czech Republic and Greek players to Malta, just as a few examples. As the needs of players evolve, so do our services since we are a very niche company, specifically cater to online gambling professionals.

BankrollMob: I remember that you mentioned a new project with sport bettors. Can you tell us more about that?


Kristin: That’s correct; since Poker Refugees was founded, we have received an increasing number of inquiries from sports bettors. The needs of poker players and sports bettors overlap significantly. Many of them are relocating for the same reasons and they need the same services. The name Poker Refugees led many sports bettors to believe that we couldn’t help them, so we are currently developing sportsrefugees.com with info about the services we can provide to sports bettors specifically. Even though poker is slowly being regulated state-by-state in the US for example, other types of gambling do not seem to be included in any of the legislation. It’s banned in quite a few countries besides the US as well. Currently, American sports bettors (to give an example) are relegated to betting in Vegas casinos in person, or risking their money on unregulated sports betting sites that serve US players by either operating in a grey area or blatantly illegally. They can fold up at any time - taking player funds with them. We can help bettors move offshore to countries where they can access all their favorite sites in a more stable and friendly environment. For sports bettors whose betting options are very limited in their home countries, we can help them establish themselves in a foreign country and assist with everything from finding a rental property through KYC and setting up or re–opening accounts on their favorite sites. Of course, they still won’t be able to bet from countries where it’s banned and must abide by each site's T&C, but while they are living offshore they can enjoy the lifestyle they want.

Kristin and with players and friends in Mexico


To learn more about Poker Refugees, click here.