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Whatever Happened to Chris Moneymaker?

Written by:
Thomas Somach
Published on:
Jul/04/2021

MEMPHIS — Chris Moneymaker is the most famous name in the history of poker.

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It was 18 years ago this month that an unknown accountant from Tennessee with a prophetic Dickensian moniker won an online poker tournament that cost less than $100 to enter.
 
The prize for winning the online tourney was a free seat (normally costing $10,000) at the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in Las Vegas.
 
Moneymaker then won the WSOP Main Event and the accompanying $2.5 million prize, sparking a worldwide poker boom.
 
Suddenly every Tom, Dick and Mary from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu figured if Moneymaker could do it, they could do it too.
 
Millions of new poker players, many of whom didn’t previously know the difference between a royal flush and a toilet flush, were created.
 
Casinos without them added poker rooms, and those with them increased their size.
 
Online poker rooms flourished.
 
And, of course, poker was all over TV as ratings for poker-related programming surged.
 
The poker boom has subsided a bit in recent years, but the game still remains enormously popular worldwide.
 
So what ever happened to Chris Moneymaker?
 
On the occasion of the 2003 WSOP champ recently being hired as a spokesman for online poker room America’s Card Room (americascardroom.eu), Gambling 911 last month checked in with the 2003 WSOP champ at his sprawling residence In suburban Memphis, Tennessee, for a wide-ranging interview.
 
(America’s Card Room is a Gambling 911 advertiser.)
 
Here is a transcript of that interview:
 
Gambling 911: So what have you been doing since you won the World Series of Poker in 2003?
 
Chris Moneymaker: I wrote a book (“Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker”). I played with tons of celebrities. A lot of Hollywood games. A lot of traveling around the world. I’ve been to every continent outside of Antarctica. I’ve played poker in just about every major city except in the Middle East. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, traveling around, playing poker. I spent a lot of time online playing at PokerStars for 10 years and then Black Friday happened and I didn’t play online much after that, because I had to travel outside the country or to New Jersey to play online. And then Covid happened (and I couldn’t play in casinos). So I ended up turning back into an online player, but I couldn’t play on PokerStars any more, so I started to play on a different site, America’s Cardroom, that I could play from home. I  have a wife, three kids, six dogs and three cats in a nice little area outside of Memphis. I’m living the dream, I guess. I’m semi-retired, but I’m still playing online.
 
G9: A lot of poker players, when they become successful, decide to move to Las Vegas. Did you ever consider that?
 
CM: I used to travel so much I never considered Vegas an option. Vegas is fine and all but with three kids I really didn’t want to be out there. It never really appealed to me. I can play the game anywhere (online). I’m 20 minutes from Tunica if I want to go down there and play live but I haven’t been there in more than two years.
 
G9: Do you still do any accounting?
 
CM: No. I quit that in 2004. I said I was going to keep my job, but when I got involved with the World Poker Tour I quit accounting. I haven’t missed it for one second.
 
G9: You have a Master’s Degree in accounting. Does accounting help you with poker at all?
 
CM: Accounting has absolutely zero to do with poker. I’ve got a good math background and that helps a smidge.
 
G9: You wrote an autobiography. Has anyone ever asked you to make it into a movie?
 
CM: I’ve definitely had talks, probably had 10 talks with different producers, writers and directors over the years. To do my story. Everybody wants to buy my rights and hold onto them for a multitude of years. I’ve been told by entertainment attorneys that I can’t give up my rights for my story without good compensation because people will just hold onto it and shop it out for the best price. I maintain the rights to my story because I’m looking for the right opportunity. I could’ve had three or four different movies and three or four different reality TV shows over the years but nothing really felt right. So I’m just kind of waiting. Probably the best story will be when I’m dead.
 
G9: Are you worried that the longer you wait, the more you’ll disappear from the public consciousness? If you were offered $1 million for your rights, maybe you should’ve just sold them.
 
CM: If I was offered $1 million I would’ve sold them. The most I was offered was $25,000 to hold the rights for five years. You’re talking peanuts. It wasn’t worth it. You look at some of these movies like “Rudy” or ones about Jackie Robinson and they were made 20, 30, 40 years later. My story was great but everybody knows it still. It’s going to be better told in 10 years. I think the story will tell better later because people won’t know the story as much. It’s a timeless story. It’s an underdog story. It’s made for Hollywood. 
 
G9: It’s like “Rocky.”
 
CM: Yeah, without getting hit in the face. 
 
G9: Would you be interested in doing a reality show where they follow you around all day?
 
CM:  I’ve done a couple documentaries but I’ve never really wanted to do a Kardashian-type show where they follow me around. We’re pretty low-key. My wife doesn’t want to be on camera and I don’t want to expose my kids to that. It’s not really something I pursued or wanted to do. One, for family purposes and two, it’s not that interesting, to be honest. There’s not a whole lot of drama with me and drama sells.
 
G9: Let’s clear up something. If you go to your Wikipedia page, it says that in addition to writing an autobiography, you also wrote a children’s book about gambling and took flak from an anti-gambling organization for doing so. What’s the story?
 
CM: I was doing a radio show a few years ago and they were having callers call in and ask me if certain things they read about me on the Internet were true or false. One caller asked if I wrote a children’s book about gambling called “Bet Big to Win Big” and I said no. The host of the show said no, it’s true and I said no, I never wrote any children’s book. They showed me on Wikipedia that someone had put in that I had written a children’s book about gambling. I don’t know why that would’ve been put out there or who would’ve put that out there. I guess anybody can put something on Wikipedia but no, I didn’t write a children’s book about gambling. I’ve only written one book in my life. I have zero desire to write a gambling book for kids. It doesn’t feel like a “New York Times” bestseller to me.
 
G9: You’re on Twitch, which does streaming on the Internet. Can you tell us about that?
 
CM: I have a Twitch channel. I can stream online. When I play poker online, I can engage with people. You can come on and watch me play poker. You can listen to my thought process. You can ask me questions. Basically, you’re engaging with me as I’m playing. There are usually between 100 and 1,000 people watching. I’m on for eight to 10 hours a day. 
 
G9: Is it live?
 
CM: It’s on a four-minute delay because it shows my hand as you’re playing on a table. I used to go out to casinos and play in small tournaments and that’s how I engaged with people. This is how I do it now.
 
G9: Is it free?
 
CM: Yes. I could charge a subscription fee but I don’t.
 
G9: How did you go from being a celebrity spokesman for PokerStars to being one for America’s Cardroom?
 
CM: After Black Friday (in 2011, when the U.S. government shut down several online poker rooms, including PokerStars), I couldn’t play on PokerStars any more. Then after Covid, I couldn’t play live anymore, so I started to play online on America’s Cardroom. I went deep in one of their big tournaments. They contacted everybody who was on the final table to find out more about them and they found out it was me. The owner of ACR got on the phone with me and we started to have a conversation. I really liked them a lot. I liked what they were doing, the way the company was going. All the money was accounted for, they keep it all on hand. They keep all the player balances on hand, unlike some of the other sites. They go above and beyond what they need to do with player safety and player balances. I was really impressed with everything. I was really happy with what ACR was doing. My  contract was running out with PokerStars, so I talked with America’s Cardroom and they said we would love to have you. I’ve been with ACR since February.
 
G9: You recently sent out a press release announcing that you were suing PayPal. Can you tell us what this is all about?
 
CM: Basically, they stole my money. They said I broke their terms of service. I had $12,000 in there and it was stolen by them. I contacted them and asked why was my money frozen and they banned me from PayPal and said I wasn’t going get my money back. So I got a lawyer and started a class-action lawsuit. I found other people who the same thing happened to. I put it on social media and I was contacted by other people. Then I sent out a press release about it and then I got my money back two weeks later. After all the bad publicity I gave them they put my money back in my account. I’m no longer a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but it continues.
 
G9: Do you know why they originally closed down your account and seized your money?
 
CM: They never told me, but I was involved with a fantasy football league and made about 12 transactions of $1,000 each in connection with that. Maybe they thought I was gambling, I don’t know.
 
G9: You’ve lived most of your life in the Memphis area. Have you ever been to Graceland?
 
CM: No. I’m not a fan of Elvis. I was never interested in visiting and it’s in a bad part of town. My parents liked him but he was before my time.
 
G9: Do you ever attend Memphis Grizzlies games?
 
CM: Yes, I go with my son.
 
G9: Fellow poker pro Phil Hellmuth, who lives outside San Francisco, says that when he wants to go to a Golden State Warriors game, he calls the front office and they give him free tickets for his whole family in the front row. Do you ever do anything like that?
 
CM: No. I’m not Phil Hellmuth. I pay my own way. When I go to a game they don’t even know beforehand that I’m coming.
 
G9: Do you ever bet on sports?
 
CM: Yes.
 
G9: Where?
 
CM: I bet offshore.
 
G9: You were recently inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. How do you feel about that?
 
CM: To be honest, I didn’t really care. I only showed up because they promised me a steak dinner. I don’t really know where the Hall of Fame is or who else is in it.
 
G9: Let’s clear up another controversy. Part of your lore is that you spent $39 to enter an online tournament, which you won, winning you a seat at the World Series of Poker, which you also won. You even referred to the rounded-up number $40 in the title of your book. But it’s not true. What really happened?
 
CM: It was $86, not $39. About 10 years after I won the World Series of Poker, I was in England doing some press for PokerStars and somebody with them told me that it was $86, not $39. For years I told everyone it was $39 because that’s what I remembered, but it was $86. I didn’t even know.
 
G9: There was another controversy a few years back. You made a video that was posted on YouTube where you confessed that Moneymaker was not your real name. You said your real name was Chris Smith and that Moneymaker was just a stage name you used to get publicity when you played poker. You even showed a fake driver’s  license. What was that all about?
 
CM: It was posted on April 1. It was an April Fool’s joke. A lot of people believed it.
 
G9: Not long after you won the World Series of Poker and the $2.5 million prize, you divorced your first wife. A lot of people have wondered if she got half of the $2.5 million in the divorce settlement. Can you tell us what happened?
 
CM: She got all of it. In exchange for that I got to keep 100% of my future earnings. I figured I’d make a lot more than that in the future playing poker and I was right. I’m a gambler. I gambled on myself and I won.
 
By Tom Somach
Gambling 911 Chief Correspondent
 

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