Gambling professionally has its perks. You do what you love, set your own schedule, and meet a lot of interesting personalities. But it isn’t glamorous.
Hollywood has given us a skewed perspective on the lifestyle of a professional gambler. As a child of the 1980s, films like Rounders, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and 21, as well as cinema classics like The Hustler, gave me the impression that the life of a gambler was romantic, exhilarating, dangerous…anything but ordinary.
As I came of age and was given a closer perspective on how professional gamblers live, the picture got a lot more mundane. Not that their aren’t obvious perks to making a living as a poker pro or blackjack strategy guru, but it is a lot more like having a 9-5 than most people realize.
Pro gamblers make less money than you would expect
In the US gamblers are required to pay taxes on winnings
Many pro gamblers play exclusively online
The fact of the matter is that gambling professionally is hard work. A successful blackjack player, for example, spends a large part of his day boning up on visual recognition skills and reading up on statistical probability. It’s not exactly tough guy stuff. If you’re considering making a living by the cards, here are a few things you should know:
#1: You’ll spend a lot of time staring into a computer screen
There’s more to being a gambler than dropping in on swanky Vegas casinos or hanging out in grimy Bronx basements. A lot of professional poker players make their living almost exclusively playing at
online poker sites in America.
Take Chris Moneymaker as an example. Before winning the hearts of poker fans across America by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP), he had spent several years perfecting his skills online at PokerStars. And he would be the first to tell you that some of the world’s best poker players have never seen their names in the headlines.
While pro blackjack players are more likely to spend their evenings at the local casino, a large proportion of them do the majority of their work online as well. That is due in part to the fact that online casinos have lower house edges and better bonuses than traditional gambling establishments, so it is a better bet financially.
#2: Professional gamblers need to file taxes
Unlike in some countries such as Canada, the UK and Germany, in the US gambling winnings are considered earned income and therefore taxable. If you play at a land-based casino, the house will collect your tax contribution from your winnings on your way out the door. online casinos in America also collect taxes on winnings.
The bad news is that the rate is an excessive 27%. The good news is that it is flat rate, so your contribution won’t increase as you win more money. That should give you an added incentive to up your game; your finances depend on it in more ways than one!
Gamblers are also allowed to deduct part of their losses from their overall tax bill. This means that the more you gamble the smaller your tax burden will be, provided that your winning still exceed your losses.
#3: You’ll work a lot of hours for inconsistent pay
If you’re currently earning $60,000-plus while working a comfortable 40 hour workweek, quitting your day job to be a pro gambler may still be the right decision for you. Just don’t think that you’re doing it for the money.
From a financial standpoint, the life of a professional gambler is tenuous. At your day job you show up, do the work you need to do, and go home. As a gambler, you only get paid when you win. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to perform at the top of your game each and every day.
In order to succeed, pro gamblers spend countless hours honing their skills at home. Think of it as like being a professional basketball player. You get paid to perform from 7pm to 9pm each night, but if you don’t put in hard work in practice and on your own time, you’ll never make it.
The hourly wage for a gambler is also a lot lower than most people realize. Consider the following scenario: you’re a card counter playing blackjack at a $20 minimum table. Due to your skill at counting you have an edge of 1% over the house. Because you’re counting, sometimes you bet more than the minimum, meaning that your average wager is $30.
Playing 60 hands per hour (a typical rate for a table with three players) you will wager $1,800 per hour. At a 1% edge, you should mathematically expect to win $18 during that hour of play. Not all that impressive, is it? Of course wagering higher amounts means you can win more money, but it also puts you at greater risk of losing.
Last words of wisdom
At the end of the day, the life of a professional gambler can be lucrative for the right person, but it is far from glamorous. If you choose gambling as a career path, expect to work very hard, have an unpredictable monthly income, and spend a lot more time in front of a computer than you expected to.
You’re chances of becoming famous are extremely slim, although Chris Moneymaker proves that it is possible. In short, choose to become a professional poker or blackjack player because you have a passion for the game, and want to make a living pursuing that passion.