Chancers: The Weird World of Professional Gambling

Once upon a time the word 'gambler' might have made you think of sweaty, grey-faced men in trackie-bottoms glaring vacuously at fruit machines or screaming at horses on the TV. But gambling is so ubiquitous in Britain today that any stigmatisms it had may be becoming something of the past.

Leaving education with a handful of skills and a head full of dreams doesn't always mean you're on your way to money and/or happiness. According to figures from the House of Commons, unemployment was at 868,000 for young people between the ages of 18-24 in 2014 and although this figure is smaller than previous years, it's less than desirable for a country that is meant to have 'the second best education in Europe'.

By the time many reach their mid-twenties they get so caught up in insignificant things like romance and cocaine that their drive for a career inevitably fades. When the 'living for the weekend' mentality takes hold and the job in Sainsbury's becomes actually bearable, your dreams of obtaining that Hugh Hefner highlife get pushed to the wayside and saved for a rainy day.

But hold on, what if you want to be nauseatingly rich but don't want to put in the years of hard work? This is a dilemma that constantly plagues the minds of Generation Z slackers. Some turn to a life of crime, some poison their innards doing medical trials for money, and some simply have wealthy and generous parents. However, the solution to this dilemma has been staring us in the face the whole time; become a professional gambler!

Once upon a time the word 'gambler' might have made you think of sweaty, grey-faced men in trackie-bottoms glaring vacuously at fruit machines or screaming at horses on the TV. But gambling is so ubiquitous in Britain today that any stigmatisms it had may be becoming something of the past. The rewritten rules of gambling for the 21st Century provide you with the chance to play bingo on Facebook or download a Betfred app for your phone.

Another very 21st Century form of gambling is 'entertainment' betting; gambling on reality TV shows.

After studying Media at university, Rob Furber decided to dedicate his time to watching warbling wannabes and sad celebrities on programs like X Factor and Big Brother whilst raking the money in. "In the early years of Pop Idol and Strictly Come Dancing I could watch the shows and see that the edit was blatantly telling the public how to vote. When I watch the eliminations it went exactly as the edit was pointing out, so I thought 'hang on a minute, there are odds available on this...'"

This is Rob's 9-5 job. Gambling as a full-time employment isn't taxable because it doesn't fall under what can be described as a 'trade'. This all stems from a court ruling regarding man that made his living betting on horses back in the 1920s, "It is extremely difficult to express, but it seems to me that people would say he is addicted to betting, and could not say that his vocation is betting," Judge Rowlett J explained. "There is no tax on a habit."

Contrary to this, Rob was certain that his form of full-time betting was a world away from gambling addiction, "I think TV betting as an entity requires real brain power, real knowledge and real research to get into. Those who are TV betting regularly are experts."

He also insisted that it wasn't born out of the love of watching trashy TV, "I wouldn't watch them if there wasn't money to be made, I think they're awful, awful programmes. The manipulation that goes on in X Factor is diabolical. It's absolutely scandalous. What Simon Cowell gets away with is amoral."

Although Rob makes a comfortable living from gambling, I wanted to delve a little deeper and find someone that was touching the sky. Giles Murray, a 24-year-old ex-student was a professional gambler between the ages of 18 and 22, "I was a full-time, professional poker player during my time at uni. All I focused on was poker and over the three years I made about $500,000."

He told me that he got into it through the love of the game, "Every weekend we'd go round to a friend's house and have poker games for five pounds each. We'd dress up and have a bit of fun."

It's not unusual for lads to get together for poker and cheap cigars at the weekend, but how did this turn into a career?

"I started playing online with one dollar at a time, realised I was okay at it and started moving up a bit. When I made my first $100, I'd play $5 dollar games. Then when I made $1000 I'd start playing $30 tournaments. A big mistake that people make is betting all of their money at once, at the end of the day, it's all to do with statistics." He explained it so nonchalantly that it sounded dangerously easy to get sucked into.

"It was a stable job because of the way I played. I knew I had my edge and how I was making my money. I wouldn't bet on X Factor or the horses because I have no idea how I'd win and make money," he explained.

He's explained to me in a calculated way that he knew if he were to lose a bet, he always had enough money put away for living expenses. "This relieved the financial pressure of it and when you take that away you can focus on enjoying the game and winning!" Giles explained. "Through access online you can log in and log out whenever you want which gives you freedom and control."

This "freedom and control" seems to be proving hard to resist for a lot of young gamblers as according to Gambling Commission's 2014 Participation Survey, 51% of people aged 18 to 24 take part in some form of gambling. This figure is the highest recorded amongst young people since the survey began.

Giles described the importance of being grounded while betting large sums of money, "My biggest win was making $10,000 in one day. My biggest losing day was about $5000. At university being around normal people really grounded me and my girlfriend didn't know what kind of money I was making. You can think you're special or some kind of genius but at the end of the day you're only as good as your last game."

After attending the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas with some friends when he was 21, Giles found himself staying in a house with fellow professionals, all around the same age. Whilst there he realised that not everyone had the same grasp on the game that he had, "One guy had let the lifestyle go to his head. He lived off $5000 a month and he was 23. He was going through a bad spell and wasn't winning but was still spending this budget every month. He wouldn't let it go, it was tragic."

Much like Rob, Giles is convinced that poker players are a different breed from the walking heart-attacks that inhabit dingy betting shops, "I think that being a professional poker player is closer to being an athlete than a gambler. My family were slightly negative towards it in the beginning but when they saw I was making money they supported me. My friends were admiring of it in the end."

When Giles was telling me his story I couldn't help but get lost in the adventure of it all, but when our conversation ended I knew that there must be a baleful dark side that I'd been ignoring. I decided to speak to Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the director of the NHS-run National Problem Gambling Clinic, "A lot of the people we have in here have had hope in the past of sustaining themselves through gambling. When they get here they're desperate and very often they've lost their homes. They've taken the biggest risks because they didn't want to see their dreams of a gambling career evaporate."

She talked about her experience meeting a professional gambler in Las Vegas and his troupe of young lemmings that "lived by night and slept all day."

"They'd only play poker, they'd memorize whole tables of data and were doing well. The people I see in my clinic are not like this though. The clinic is more representative of the actual reality of gambling."

With the statistics that more than half of 16-25 year old's now gamble, has there been an increase in gambling problems among young adults too?

"We've seen more students coming through our clinic doors in the last year than ever before. Maybe that's to do with the current financial climate. They're gambling their grant money and savings in order to make it stretch further."

But surely all students are bad with their money?

"I just think that there are so many good activities out there like sports and intellectual activities. I would like to see young people reading more books rather than just gambling, it's sad," she concluded, wistfully.

Entertainment better Rob admitting at the end of our chat that you have to be introverted and self-absorbed to do what he does and that means that maintaining relationships can be hard. "But," he said "at least I'm not chained to some office job!"

After four years entrenched in the poker world, Giles ended up leaving the full-time gambling life at the ripe age of 22. He now works as an analyst at a private equity firm and plays poker some weekends to top up his 'living expenses'. He bought himself a house when he left university and he described it all as an "amazing achievement."

From what I can gather, being a successful poker player or entertainment better takes brains, discipline and perhaps a touch of luck. This means that the coked-up chancer throwing down thousands on the roulette table, or the rambling roadmen ranting outside of Ladbrokes might not be professionals, despite what they may tell you. It's the quiet, obsessive types that manage to crack it.

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