Is Pro Poker a Job?

You see them every week on the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker; professional poker players, making their living on the pro tournament circuit, paying their bills by playing cards. The idea is a romantic one, and the paydays you see them win certainly seem big enough to support a person, but is “professional poker player” a real job? Absolutely; and it is a business.
A business provides a service, operates (hopefully) profitably, and deals with expenses, taxes, liscenses and the like. A professional poker player is a self employed individual that makes their living playing poker; that much is obvious. But many who think “I can do that!” when they see David Williams and Tuan Lee score huge wins on the World Poker Tour and hear how they dropped school and career to do so, do not consider the other side of the coin.

A professional poker player has a lot of expenses, although this can be modulated in a number of ways. There are travel expenses, lodging, food, tournament costs, buy ins and the like. These items may be tax deductible, however, and a number of pros use sponsors and backers to help defray the cost, for the price of a percentage of what they win. Greg Raymer, the Fossilman, sold shares of himself as a pro player and paid dividends to his investors year after year—much to their delight when he won the WSOP in 2004.

Then there are the hours—you have to clock in as a poker player and spend the time at the table to both become good enough to make a living, and actually get their pay. The term “Grinder” comes from the player who sits for eight hours at a casino effectively not playing poker while they wait for the right cards.

Yes, being a professional poker player certainly offers a lot that the typical Nine to Five does not, but that does not mean it is not a job. Keep that in mind the next time you toy with the idea of turning pro.

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