Suppose you grind out a good six figures or more playing poker online and cash at numerous tournaments each year. Your federal income taxes are more than some folks’ annual incomes. Apart from work-related necessities, such as maintaining a bankroll to play with and covering expenses related to poker events that are not paid for by sponsors, how do you spend your money? Here are nine ways poker pros handle their discretionary income.
Upgrading the Crib – One of the first things many pros do when they get ahead of the game is to take their “shelter” to the next level. After scoring $817,781 at the 2008 World Series of Poker (WSOP), Phil Galfond bought and combined two apartments in New York for $3.2 million to create a huge three-bedroom, four-bathroom condominium. Phil Ivey currently lives alone in a 6,727-square-foot, three-bedroom house worth nearly $2 million. Home sweet home just keeps getting sweeter.
Mo’ Better Rides – Vanessa Rousso, winner of 14 WSOP cashes and five circuit cashes worth $401,509, likes luxury cars. Among the Lady Maverick’s purchases have been a 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo—one of only 5,000 ever made—and a 2012 Bentley Continental GT with an MSRP of $189,900. Phil Ivey drives a $500,000 Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren and a $400,000 Rolls Royce. Daniel Negreanu is one of a handful of poker pros who have recently bought a tricked-out trailer to travel in, complete with a microwave and fridge for between-event snacking.
Bit by the Travel Bug – Apart from making the annual trek to Las Vegas for the WSOP or swinging through Europe on the poker tour, many pros enjoy sightseeing and seek out international adventures. By the age of 25, Cole South had visited over thirty countries on every continent but Antarctica; his most recent getaway was to Vietnam. Barry Shulman is well known as a cruise traveler; he’s been on over 100 cruises, 36 ships and 16 cruise lines.
Getting Educated – When tuition money is no object, time to study often is. A surprising number of young pros have had to put college on hold while they built up their bankrolls. Cole South is one of them; he left his academic career behind for three years while amassing over $5 million at the tables. Five-time WSOP bracelet winner Chris “Jesus” Ferguson spent five years attending UCLA as an undergraduate and 13 more as an on-and-off PhD candidate before earning his doctoral degree in computer science.
Making Money Make Money – More than a few poker pros use their profits to become even more profitable. Dan Harrington owns a successful investment company—Anchor Loans—specializing in both real estate and the stock market; Harrington says, “They are just other types of games.” Italian Filippo Candio used part of his $3 million cash at the 2011 WSOP to start his own line of poker-themed clothing. Dewey Tomko banked on his three bracelets to buy a casino in Costa Rica.
Taking a Gamble – When poker is a job, every other wagering activity becomes a hobby. Poker pros are notorious for their proposition bets, like David Grey betting vegetarian Howard Lederer he couldn’t eat an entire hamburger (that cost Grey $10,000). Many also enjoy betting on backgammon, blackjack, horseracing and sports. Canadian Daniel Negreanu, for example, is a huge ice hockey fan and no stranger to making four-figure wagers on his favorite teams. Phil Ivey backs the NBA’s Houston Rockets and L.A. Lakers; he’s also been seen tossing dice at Foxwoods for $50,000 a roll.
Just Having Fun – “Work hard, play hard” is the mantra of youthful poker pros, and they certainly know how to get their party on. It is not unusual to see poker pros like Maria Ho and Tiffany Michelle doing another form of grinding at chic Las Vegas clubs late into the night. High-stakes pro David Peat admits that his hobbies are “partying, dating and shooting pool.” Chris Ferguson says one of his favorite pastimes is dancing West Coast Swing at California clubs. Phil Ivey likes hanging out with celebs like Michael Phelps.
Fashion Statements – Judging from their “work clothes,” one might think a poker pro’s wardrobe revolves around hoodies, logo-branded polo shirts and hats—either the cowboy version popularized by Doyle Brunson or the black cap, courtesy of Phil Hellmuth. But away from the tables, players can be clothes hounds just like everyone else. A case in point is Liz Liu, the so-called “Poker Diva,” who is rumored to have never worn the same outfit twice.
Philanthropy – There are obvious tax advantages to charitable giving, but for many the cause is also personal. For instance, Jamie Gold, whose father suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), is a major fundraiser for the ALS Division of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Meanwhile, Guy Laliberté sponsored the WSOP’s $1,000,000 Buy-In “Big One for One Drop” to fight poverty in the world by giving everyone access to water. Indeed, almost every successful poker pro is associated with one or more nonprofits—spending that pays dividends of a non-monetary kind.