We hear enough about gambling addiction, so let’s hear a few stories about how poker has helped people pay their debts.
There was a time when all states allowed online poker sites in the US. And card players loved it. Before officials shut them down in 2011, the game was very popular. So popular, in fact, that many students were using it as a way of paying for their college tuition. It was easy enough, too. All they needed was a computer, a decent Internet connection, practice and a small investment they could later turn into a big prize.
Meanwhile, the US has banned online casino games – including poker – with the exception of a few, more open-minded states. But the internet poker business is very much alive and kicking, with international tournaments offering thousands, sometimes millions of dollars in prizes.
There are also plenty of stories of success out there, proving that poker is not just another casino game; it’s a game of skill which – if you’re smart enough – can help you become rich. Or at least buy you the education your parents couldn’t afford.
Young poker talent
If you’re looking to hear it straight from people who have actually been through such an experience, Harry Lodge is one of them. The third year Exeter Economics student and poker player has earned enough money to pay off college tuition three times over.
Harry started playing with his friends, while he was at boarding school and said he “immediately fell in love with the game”. Once he started reading more about strategies his game got better and better. Soon enough he was winning tournaments.
“When I turned 18 I deposited GBP20 into an online poker site and with continued studying to this day, never looked back,” he told reporters of the UK Huffington Post.
At the age of 20, the poker ace already has $220,000 in overall career winnings. He plays both online, as well as in English poker rooms, and so far the highlight of his career was making it to the final table of the PokerStars UKIPT Isle of Man tournament in 2013. Harry came in fifth in this major event and won GBP27,600 – enough to pay his three years of tuition fees.
“The experience of being on a televised table was something extremely exciting for me and I hope there will be more to come in the future,” he told reporters. The young man said he invested most of his earnings in the stock market.
Education – a priority
Lodge is in his final year of university, and he doesn’t want to give it all up for poker. But he still practices online and he’s getting ready for the GBP2,000 GUKPT Grand Final in London, later in November. That is, if he finds the time and energy. Meanwhile, he regularly enters online tournaments and studies the game diligently.
“It is definitely an exciting job and way of life that lends itself to lots of traveling to tournaments around the globe, meeting many interesting personalities along the way,” he said. But poker players need a strong emotional intelligence, work ethic, the ability to stay focused and a lot of willpower to study and improve constantly, in order to make it to the top.
“Poker can be a very mentally draining game… I can’t think of any other job where you can go to work 8 eight hours a day for a week, work extremely hard and end up with less money than you started with. That’s a tough but important concept that you need to be able to cope with mentally,” he explained.
“I’m in a situation where I am earning more than I would be in a graduate job doing something that I love doing. Whether in a few years down the line I decide that it’s no longer for me is a possibility but I will have my degree to fall back on.”
From passion to profession
Unlike in the US, British gambling laws allow players to play poker on the internet, so it is easy for Lodge to practice the game. But for American players, options are limited. At present, online poker sites are legal only in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
While for Lodge, poker is a fun way to enrich his knowledge and earn some money, for others it becomes a full-time career. For example, Matt Giannetti saw it as more than a way to fund his education. In fact, he dropped out of school to become a professional poker player. And he doesn’t regret his decision, because it paid off big-time.
“During my first semester at Texas, anytime I heard about a poker game going on at a frat house or one of the dorms, I would go play that game,” he said. And back then, internet poker sites were still legal across the US, so during his second semester he started playing online. By the end of his sophomore year, he dropped out of college to focus on poker.
When asked how his parents reacted when he gave them the big news, he said: “Going to college and getting a degree is something most people want for their children. When someone says, ‘I’m dropping out of college to play poker because I think I can make a better living at it,’ then you have to scratch your head a little bit.”
A former engineering student, Giannetti followed his passion and went on to become a professional card player. In 2011, he made it to the final table of November Nine, the annual World Series of Poker’s main event.
There are countless examples of young players turning their passion into a well-paid profession. The time has come for society to stop labeling them as gamblers and seeing them as what they really are: smart, talented professionals.