Next to the law, detective and police work, and medicine, few vocations have been as glamorized by Hollywood and TV coverage as that of professional gamblers. And let’s face it: looking at a few 22-year-olds who’ve won upwards of $8 million at the World Series of Poker or the MIT whiz kids of the 1980s and 1990s, one could easily imagine that the life of a professional gambler – wads of dough aside – is a glamorous one, with hot chicks hanging all over you (or Chippendales, if you’re a woman) and sleeping in till noon every day, then waking to champagne and caviar.
But, as with so many things in life, reality and fantasy – while they may overlap in spots – are not one and the same. In real life, people lose as well as win; relationships can go bust over things like bankrolls lost and insanely late hours kept; and the world’s most powerful mistress, Lady Luck, can prove to be a daunting adversary for any spouse or significant other. So, before you decide to give up your day job and go all Bond on us, let’s take a look at some of the Hollywood spin, and compare it to notes from real-life gamblers to see how reality compares to the movies.
In the movies, gamblers always have huge wads of cash on them at all times, but no mention is ever made of how they got it. Since we know most of them don’t have a real job, after all, this begs the question: where does all that money really come from? In real life, professional gambler Christatos Aristad, who has played everything – poker, bridge, backgammon, euchre and craps – says you need a backer, and that finding one isn’t really that simple a task.
“People have money and want to invest in games and players, booking agents act as middlemen and talent scouts, and players act as talent,” explained Aristad of the “bankroll from others” concept. “The problem is getting discovered. To be honest I’m not sure how that works today,” Aristad, who is now in his mid-50s and retired, went on. “When I was playing, it was just a matter of being a poorer but better player, playing for wealthier men who could barely hold their cards, and staying in the business as it evolved.”
And don’t forget: he who bankrolls typically gets a healthy, if not in fact a majority, cut of any winnings.
The Highs and Lows
In Hollywood, gamblers are all dressed in black tuxes like James Bond, or else roughing it out with Russian Mafia types like Matt Damon in Rounders. The truth about the gambling life probably encompasses some of all of that, but let’s be clear: the rough edges are pretty rough. And then there’s the online professional, who deals with a whole different set of problems, including loneliness and isolation. One such gambler, who goes by just the name “Mat” and writes a gambling blog, has this to say: “The life of a professional online gambler can be a fairly lonely existence if truth be told. Without the radio streamed through my PC I would go mental for sure. I know a few other gamblers well enough to be able to email them to share a moan about results and so on but generally speaking I suffer the highs and lows alone. Don’t get me wrong, I have friends and family around me but I don’t think any of them really understand what I do well enough to offer any sort of support when it may be required.”
Is being a professional gambler a fun job at the end of the day? Can you have a happy home life and be a pro gambler? That might depend on who you ask, but Aristad had this to say about it: “You get one, then the other. There is no balance. When the game is on and the backing is in, you are on a plane. The people who set up the game, and the people who pay for your ticket, do not care in the slightest if your wife is pregnant, your daughter is teething, or your son is in his school’s presentation of the “Parade of Nutrition” or whatever the heck children do. They either find someone else, or they don’t play… This is not to say that you cannot date, but if you have any intention of forming a meaningful relationship before you retire, I would suggest a more family friendly line of work, like mobster or deep sea diver.”
There, see? Suddenly your nine-to-five job doesn’t look so bad, does it.