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‘Degenerate Gambler’ recounts WSOP win in parking lot

Ryan Depaulo drove down the highway into New Jersey, taking each exit until he found a parking lot with a Wi-Fi connection. A few hours later, he won a World Series of Poker bracelet.

The New Yorker’s victory demonstrated the unique nature of the WSOP Online, which is being held this year after the postponement of the flagship WSOP in Las Vegas because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are no cheering crowds surrounding the final table at the Rio Convention Center for this year’s winners. They are achieving poker glory in their living rooms, hotel rooms or, in Depaulo’s case, in front of a Whole Foods.

That’s just fine with him. It’s another chapter in a wild two years for Depaulo, 33, who has built a following on YouTube with his tongue-in-cheek channel titled “Ryan Depaulo: Degenerate Gambler.”

“I didn’t really feel it until it was over,” he said in a phone conversation while walking through the streets of Manhattan. “It felt as amazing as I think winning a bracelet in person would.”

Depaulo won Event 12 of the WSOP Online, a $500 buy-in No-limit Hold’em tournament dubbed the Big 500, earning $159,563.11.

His bracelet story starts with America’s online poker laws. Only people physically in Nevada and New Jersey can play on WSOP.com, the host site for the U.S. leg of the WSOP Online.

That means Depaulo has to drive from Manhattan into New Jersey every day he wants to play in the series. Some days he gets a hotel, some he gets an Airbnb, some he stays with his girlfriend’s family.

Three times so far, he has chosen to play in his car, thinking that if he is eliminated from the tournament early, he can drive home and sleep in his own bed.

That was the plan July 12.

“I just drove into Jersey,” he said. “I thought I knew a place, but I didn’t have any place picked. I tried to pull over on the side of the road overlooking Manhattan. (The site’s geolocator) said I was too close to New York. It kept thinking I wasn’t in Jersey.

“So literally all I did was get off at the next exit and go deeper into New Jersey and then search ‘parking lot’ in my phone.”

He ended up in the parking lot of a strip mall with a Whole Foods, and the mall’s Wi-Fi connection worked for him.

“It was really random,” he said. “It was just a nondangerous place in New Jersey that happened to have Wi-Fi that bailed me out.”

Depaulo said he soon realized the Wi-Fi had a wrinkle: It would kick him off the network once an hour, apparently wanting to make sure that he still wanted to be connected. He would rapidly switch to the WSOP mobile app to play a hand or two while restoring the Wi-Fi connection to his laptop.

The stakes of each disconnection became higher as he went deeper into the tournament, he said. He faced a crisis when the tournament was down to three players and he couldn’t immediately get back on the Wi-Fi after a disconnection. He said he played on the mobile app for 12 hands, but a glitch prevented him from raising more than the minimum amount — quite a limitation in No-limit Hold’em.

“It’s the biggest spot of my life, and I thought I was going to have a mental breakdown,” he said. “And then the Wi-Fi reconnected.”

A short while later, with the sun rising and people filing into work on a Monday morning, Depaulo was a World Series of Poker champion.

He posted a YouTube video of the immediate aftermath, as he jumped out of his car and yelled, “I’m a legend!” He then noticed a shopper walking into a store staring at him and yelled, “Sorry!”

Depaulo said he wasn’t thinking about what a win might mean for his online following during the tournament, but that soon changed.

“I win and then Google my name, and it’s like, ‘Ryan Depaulo wins bracelet in parking lot.’” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty on brand.’”

His “Degenerate Gambler” channel documents his poker adventures, but he also has videos in which he plays slots and video poker and bets on sports and horse racing. He has more than 54,000 subscribers, and he said the majority of his income derives from YouTube and streaming his online sessions on Twitch.

But while he plays the degenerate, he has rapidly improved his poker game. He went to the WSOP for the first time last year and scored for $208,643 by finishing third in the Colossus, a $400 No-limit Hold’em event with 13,109 entries.

That spurred him to get poker coaching to improve his game, he said, and now that is paying off.

The momentum from his bracelet win was immediate. The next day, he finished 23rd for $6,381 in a $1,500 event, and the day after that he took 16th for $11,640 in the $3,200 No-limit Hold’em High Roller, the biggest buy-in event of the U.S. leg of the WSOP Online. He has since cashed in two other events.

Now he said he’s considering trying to get out of the country to play the international leg of the WSOP Online, which started Sunday on GGPoker and is only available to players physically outside the U.S. — an unthinkable prospect before his recent run, when his average tournament buy-in was about $100.

But the plan for now is to finish out the U.S. leg, in a more comfortable setting.

“The first thing I need to do,” he said, “is set up in Jersey — not in a car — for the rest of the month.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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