I’ve been a professional video poker player for 28 years and played backgammon and blackjack semi-professionally before that. Someone asked me what I’d be doing with my life if I weren’t a professional gambler?
My initial answer was, “I have no idea.” I haven’t had a serious backup plan for decades. I’m confident that I can make money doing what I’m doing, and if I have to give it up because of some medical condition (not in the foreseeable future — but that could always change tomorrow), I have enough put away that I won’t need to work.
And then I thought back to a Luke Combs song called “Doin’ This.” I’m not really familiar with his background, but his song presents him as a good old boy and a country singer. His life and mine are very, very different. But he said something in the song that rang true for me. Not the exact details, as his song is autobiographical, but the general idea.
Were I to be asked that same question again, I’d answer today, “About the same as I’m doing now only as a skilled hobbyist rather than a professional.”
I’m going to be playing games. Since I was a boy, I’ve competed at a variety of games. I’m good at many of them. That’s probably why I’m now a professional game player. Figuring out how to succeed at these games, and then doing it over and over again, is simply what I do.
If I didn’t file as a professional gambler on my tax return, I’d likely play for lower stakes. As many of you know, W-2Gs can cause havoc taxwise for the non-professional.
Being a skilled hobbyist is significantly different from a recreational player. A skilled hobbyist studies hard and applies himself seriously. A recreational player plays mostly for entertainment.
It’s sort of like the difference between being a minor league baseball player and someone who plays in a co-ed slow pitch softball league. You have to be a very good player even to make the roster of a minor league baseball team. There’s no money to speak of in the minor leagues, and most of these players aren’t good enough to make it to the major leagues, but they’ve all dreamed of doing so for years.
Most co-ed slow pitch leagues are just for fun. Meet with your friends regularly, get some exercise, and then have beer and pizza after the game. It’s an entirely different experience than playing professionally, even in the low minors.
Would I teach and write articles if I weren’t paid to do so? Possibly. I enjoy both activities and each one of them helps me maintain and improve my game.
If I wrote those articles, I’d likely try to sell them somewhere. I could be a professional writer without being a professional gambler, I suppose. And I’d probably try to charge for the classes — either have the casino pay me or charge admission.
All in all, it adds up to: If I weren’t doing this, I’d probably still be doing this!