PokerStars Founder Isai Scheinberg Named as Recipient of WPT Honors

When Isai Scheinberg launched PokerStars in 2001, online poker was in its infancy. Early platforms often suffered from outages, poor software, and other user unfriendly issues.

Scheinberg set out to change that. When the site went live, players found a much-improved software experience. That helped pave the way for the company to become one of the biggest online poker operators in the world.

The World Poker Tour recently announced that Scheinberg would be recognized as part of the tour’s WPT Honors, along with commentator Vince Van Patten.

“These two men have both made transformational contributions to the poker community, Isai as a pioneer with his incredible ingenuity and boldness, and Vince with his love and dedication to expanding the game of poker,” WPT CEO Adam Pliska said in a news release. “Both honorees are truly deserving of the award.”

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Recognizing an industry titan

When it comes to the world of online poker, not many people have meant more to the industry than Scheinberg. Stars was a key player in the poker boom era and helped increase interest in poker worldwide. The company’s efforts helped grow the game all around the world.

“I am very honored,” Shceinberg, 74, said of the award. “The World Poker Tour is a very important poker company which made major contributions to the game. The first TV advertising PokerStars did was on WPT programming on the Travel Channel. It had a major impact that led to millions of players joining us.”

Born in Lithuania before immigrating to Israel, the former programmer later moved to Toronto and worked for IBM Canada. His site resonated with players and the WPT noted that many “still consider Scheinberg to be the standard bearer for how online players should be treated.”

The WPT Honors Award launched in 2017 as the highest achievement from the company. The award is granted every year, honoring members of the poker industry who have made exceptional contributions to the WPT and the poker community as a whole.

WPT Honors recognizes those who distinguish themselves through “excellence and dedication beyond expectations.” These are the previous WPT Honors recipients:

  • 2017 – Bruno Fitoussi, Linda Johnson, Mike Sexton
  • 2018 – Lyle Berman, Steve Lipscomb
  • 2019 – Deb Giardina, Matt Savage
PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg (right) with his son Mark.

Schainberg was an online poker pioneer

The poker boom of the 2000s was a heady time for the industry. Live tournaments saw massive fields as televised poker helped the game gain even more fans and players.

When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, he’d won his seat via an $86 online qualifier at PokerStars. That helped launch the poker boom of the 2000s with PokerStars right at the forefront.

The site offered online tournaments and cash games for players around the world. Scheinberg was a poker player himself and understood the game.

The gifted computer programmer helped fine-tune software that was user friendly. The site also offered a fair game and played similarly to what a player might find at a live poker game.

“It was the tournaments that made PokerStars a hit with players,” Forbes noted of the company founder. “For a small amount of money – often less than $25 – players could buy into a single-elimination tournament and have a chance at winning a huge payday without the fear of incurring big losses.”

Rescuing Full Tilt players, selling the company

When the US government cracked down on online poker in 2011, Scheinberg and PokerStars agreed to purchase Full Tilt Poker. That company faced economic insolvency and without the deal, millions of dollars in player funds would have been lost.

Stars eventually agreed to a $731 million settlement with federal prosecutors and shifted to catering to players outside the US. 

Ironically, the company later entered back into the American market in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Scheinberg and his family sold PokerStars in 2014 for $4.9 billion. In 2019, Paddy Power Betfair (now known as Flutter Entertainment) acquired the company, creating the largest online gaming company in the world.

The Stars founder now spends much of his time working in philanthropy and spending time with his family.