Remembering Those The Poker Community Lost In 2021

The past year was a tough one for many in the poker community. From well-known poker players like Layne Flack to those who changed the game forever like Henry Orenstein, the poker community mourned the loss of some of its own in 2021.

Sheldon Adelson

Casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson died nearly one year ago, on 11 January 2021. At the age of 87, he died of long-term illnesses, most prominently non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The American-born businessman maintained close ties to his Jewish heritage throughout his life, even being buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

The entrepreneur began his first business at the age of 12, going on to create dozens more businesses throughout his life. He had become a millionaire before the age of 30. His endeavors eventually took him to the gambling industry when he bought the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1988. He spent $110 million on it, added a large expo and convention center, and turned the Sands property into the Venetian. He even added the Palazzo as an adjoining property.

Besides his presence in the United States gambling market, Adelson made a name for himself in the Asia-Pacific. He opened the Sands Macao in 2004 and the Venetian Macao on Cotai in 2007. He then expanded into Singapore with the Marina Bay Sands property, which officially opened in 2010.

Many Americans knew him for his political activism, but he also spent millions (at least) to fight against the United States legalizing any form of online gambling, including online poker.

No stranger to controversy, some in the Asian gambling world remember the allegations that he had inside dealings with Chinese officials to obtain his Macau gambling license.

Meanwhile, Adelson continued to accumulate wealth. Forbes valued him at $33.5 billion near the time of his death.

Larry Flynt

Another controversial figure died early in 2021. Larry Flynt was known known mostly as the owner of Hustler magazine and Larry Flynt Publications, the latter of which produced pornography videos and television programming. Many people also knew him for being in a wheelchair due to paralysis caused by an attempted assassination in 1978. Others remember him for his numerous legal battles in America, especially his fight against obscenity exceptions to the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

However, the poker community knew him for his love of the game. He participated in long-time high-stakes poker games in Hollywood for many years. And in 2000, he opened a California card room called Hustler Casino in the Los Angeles area.

Flynt died at the age of 78 in Los Angeles on 10 February 2021.

Layne Flack

Born in 1969 in South Dakota in the United States, Layne Flack was drawn to poker at an early age. And during the poker boom, he became one of the better-known players in the world.

His first recorded tournament winnings date back to 1994, with most of those events having taken place in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Atlantic City. Flack went to wherever the poker opportunities presented themselves. Some of his favorite events tended to be at the World Series of Poker in Vegas, where he began cashing in 1998 and won his first bracelet in 1999. He won two more in 2002, another two in 2003, and one in 2008. And adding to his six WSOP titles, he won a World Poker Tour title in 2003.

He became known in poker as Back-to-Back Flack for winning two 1999 Legends of Poker tournaments in two days. His nickname stick with his back-to-back years of winning two WSOP events each.

Flack may not have managed his money well, but all who knew him knew of his poker talents. They also knew him for a relentlessly positive attitude and respect for fellow players. His battle with addiction, however, took his life on 19 July 2021. The coroner listed his cause of death as a mix of drugs. He was 52 years old.

Noel Furlong

His name looks familiar to poker fans because he won the 1999 WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas. Noel Furlong was a lifelong poker player but also a very successful businessman.

Furlong was born on Christmas Day in 1937 in Dublin, Ireland. Years of business experience led him to found his own company called Furlong Flooring, which manufactured flooring for customers around the UK. That 1980-born company remains successful and still operates out of Dublin but with offices across the UK.

A horse enthusiast, he raised and trained horses, famously winning £1 million when his horse won a 1999 race. Poker was his other passion, and he played in mostly local games since the early 1980s. He found success in tournament series like the Irish Poker Open in the 1980s, and he had success in Las Vegas as well, making several final tables in addition to his Main Event win.

Furlong died at the age of 83 at home, surrounded by family, on 27 June 2021.

Matt Marafioti

Known primarily for his online poker prowess, Matt Marafioti made a name for himself as ADZ124 (and sometimes Adzizzy) at the online poker tables. He quickly moved up to high stakes action and became a well-known figure during the poker boom.

Marafioti was born in Canada in 1988, and he grew up and attended university there but lived much of his adult life in America. Just as quickly as he emerged on the poker scene, though, he began to fade as he exhibited signs of mental illness. It was in and around 2016 that he began to release videos claiming that famous people wanted to kill him. The stories became wilder as the years went on, and he ultimately took his own life by jumping from a balcony of a high-rise apartment building in New Jersey. That happened on 13 August 2021.

(If you or anyone you know needs to talk, Lifeline has a 24/7 crisis support line at 13-11-14.)

Norm Macdonald

Canadian Norm Macdonald started his life in 1959 in Quebec and took to comedy early in life. Performing in comedy clubs in the 1980s eventually led him to the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1993. He appeared on SNL for several years, as well as on his own television show – The Norm Show – and in comedy clubs far and wide.

Some poker players will recognize him from celebrity poker shows during the poker boom. He was also a true fan of the game, though, and played whenever he had the opportunity. He played often at California card rooms during his years of living in the Los Angeles area. Other poker fans may recognize his voice from the season of High Stakes Poker that he cohosted with Kara Scott.

Macdonald battled leukemia since an unpublicized diagnosis in 2012. It took his life on 14 September 2021.

Dusty Schmidt

More people might recognize Dusty Schmidt by his online poker screen name of Leatherass. Born in 1981 as Dustin, he took to competition early. His game of choice was golf. Junior golf associations began to notice him in his teens, and he became a professional after high school. However, a heart attack in his early 20s kept him from the big leagues like the PGA (Professional Golf Association).

When golf was not an option as a career, Schmidt found poker and threw himself into it. He did so well on sites like PokerStars that they signed him on as a pro for Team PokerStars Online. He ultimately achieved the status of SuperNova Elite. In the years that followed, he penned a couple of poker books.

At the beginning of December, Schmidt died of heart failure.

Henry Orenstein

Born in Poland in October 1923, Henry Orenstein was a survivor of the German concentration camps during the Holocaust. He and his two surviving siblings emigrated to the United States to live with an uncle. The innovative young man worked in a factory but went on to become a toy manufacturer. Over the decades, the Transformers and Suzy Cute were among his dozens of patented toys.

Later in his life, Orenstein found a way to combine his long love of the game of poker with his entrepreneurial spirit. He knew that the early days of watching poker on television were tough; it was hard to find new audiences when no one could see the players’ cards. So, he developed the “hole card camera.” The poker table had to be cut in sections near where glass would replace the felt. Each player would have a space near their chips where they could put their cards face-down on the table, and a camera would transmit their images to a person in another room.

Poker players were skeptical, initially. They imagined all of the ways that people could cheat. Moreover, they feared that showing their hole cards on television would give away their poker-playing secrets.

The hole card cam made its debut with Late Night Poker on BBC in 1999. It proved successful enough that the World Poker Tour wanted to use it. They licensed the camera and created a television show that carried the WPT through 19 seasons and counting.

Orenstein also worked in a co-production role on shows like Poker Superstars Invitational and High Stakes Poker. The WSOP Poker Hall of Fame inducted Orenstein in 2008.

At the age of 98, Orenstein died in his New Jersey home on 14 December 2021.



Rose Varrelli avatar
Rose Varrelli
Senior Casino & News Writer

Hi there! I’m Rose, and with nine years behind me in the iGaming industry, I craft engaging narratives at CasinoAus. My education in Communication across Europe has sharpened my skills in fintech, casino legislation, and digital marketing. Backed by a strong foundation in SEO, storytelling, and cross-cultural communication, I’m passionate about creating content that resonates globally and educates our audience.

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