Do You Really Want to Work in the Poker Industry?

Every week without fail I get poker people coming to me for advice on two subjects (In fact, so much so that I reckon I could charge for it) – how to promote their poker event/site/book/product or how to get a job in the poker industry. I actually don’t mind this at all and have tried my best to help as many people as I can because inevitably these are the people I might be begging for work from in a few years time.

This week I had a mate ask me about working for a poker site doing the job he currently does now in the ‘real world’ , I won’t say who it is or the job in question just on the off chance he wants to keep it quiet. The strangest thing is that I found myself instinctively trying to put him off. This may well have been because I felt some sort of territorial threat even though the job he does is vastly different to what I do, but really I think a lot of people would be disappointed by elements of the industry.

Now the quick disclaimer, I love working in the poker industry, in fact working in poker has done so much for me and made me realise how important enjoying your work is. I have travelled the world, met some of the best people you could ever met and made a decent living. I am also lucky that I got into the industry at a very good time and work for PokerNews, who are the best poker website and it’s not even close. I want to stay in poker for a long time because it’s great.

But there was a lot I warned him against which I think it’s important to know about large portions of the industry. It is, after all, a very young industry which brings with it both opportunity and road blocks. Poker is not a bad place to work, but be mindful of these ways in which it can be different from other industries.

Less Contracts
There are plenty of contracts in poker, especially the higher up you go, but in general expect a lot less. Most of the people I know in the industry are free agents rather than on a contract and I don’t hear of many benefits packages (Other than hush hush rakeback deals). More worryingly, it’s amazing how many businesses will partner with each other with no formal contracts involved. This is still very much a handshake industry, which often leaves people let down when there is no impetus for people to act professionally.

I personally don’t mind no contract myself, I prefer being a free agent and self employed, but not everyone thinks this way.

No Security
Poker is one of the most fragile industries around in every respect. The legality of the game is routinely under threat or hazy in just about every country in the world. It’s also largely unregulated industry, all of which means that you literally could wake up one morning and through no fault of your own have no job (or industry) anymore. You should always have your fingers in several pies when you work in poker.

Poker Players Make Business Decisions
Because it’s a new industry, invariably a lot of the people at the top of the ladder do not have 20 years business experience behind them, they are poker players. Poker players are some of the most intelligent people I have ever met but they are also some of the stupidest, especially when they have as cavalier an attitude towards real money as they do poker money. A lot of the heads of poker companies are just ‘blaggers’ who have bluffed their way to a career.

The ones who have survived are clearly the ones who have good business acumen, but if you start working for a new company don’t be surprised to find that you lost your job because the boss had a bad run at Chinese poker – because it’s happened before.

Smaller Industry Than You Would Think
Everyone talks about the poker boom and how massive it’s become, but it’s still a relatively small industry for those that work in it. The wages are perhaps a bit lower than you would expect in a broader industry and there are less opportunities for progression because the pecking order is much shallower.

The good side to this is that there is plenty of opportunity to stand out and carve a big niche for yourself where you wouldn’t elsewhere. However despite being so young, its already a very competitive industry.

The Advertiser is Number One
Likewise, you always have be very careful what you say in this industry because it’s so small. Almost all the businesses outside of the poker rooms are funded by the poker rooms, so you always have to keep them happy. Say something negative about a big sponsor and it could cost you your job, in fact I know a couple of people that have lost jobs for saying negative things about high profile players in public forums/editorial (And no it wasn’t for bad mouthing Hellmuth either). It’s quite easy to get blackballed in this industry.

I’m lucky in that I am an incredible nit, so I never play out of my bankroll and I never play house games. But if you have any leaks like this as a player, you will be in trouble working in poker because you inevitably will be surrounded by opportunities to gamble 24/7 when a job outside of it would prohibit them.

Ruin a Hobby
Having a job that is also a hobby is amazing, but it can also burn you out. Sometimes I am sick of the word poker and I have long periods where I never play – which is nice but if you currently love the escapism of poker then working there might be too much of a step too far. You simply cannot put poker away when it’s both your job and your hobby; usually this will leave you either playing less or poker affecting your social life a bit more. I was a pretty high volume player for a long time, but something had to give and I am much happier now I only play a few hours a week for fun.

I doubt I have put anyone off working in poker and I don’t want to, but consider yourself warned what it can be like. I love working in poker and I love working for PokerNews (Who are very organised, professional and go against most of what I’ve just said because they are one of the larger entities in the game). The biggest advice I would give is to be mindful of, in fact embrace, how uncertain the industry is, network like crazy and grab opportunities with both hands.


James Atkin said...

Are we supposed to make up the rest of this sentence?

"all of which means that you literally could wake up one morning and through no fault of your own."


Barry Carter said...

Thats really weird, the missing words were there in the edit page. Fixed

Shouldnt you be earning VPPs?

What you gonna spend em on btw? Amazon vouchers?

Rick T said...

Was it Bland who wanted out? No, I know, you can't say :o)

Barry Carter said...

I was actually going to make a final point entitled 'Dave Bland takes all the jobs anyway'

JONY said...

"Bland takes all the jobs....after he's got bored of the last one." :)

swampsterjy said...

good piece btw, Barry. Especially the point about advertisers being no.1. In this climate particularly they dicate everything.

Anonymous said...

Your article is basically entirely wrong when it comes to working in the poker industry.

It might apply to the few media/affiliate roles that you have had exposure to, but it is incredibly inaccurate when it comes to working for the various online poker sites.

Barry Carter said...

Hey Anonymous,

If you work for Stars/Tilt/Party/PKR/Ladbrokes/Betfair or a few others you might be right.

But if you worked for Poker Trillion,UB, Absolute, Pitbull Poker, Poker Planet, any of the Tusk MicroGaming rooms etc etc I am sure you would disagree. Loads of others I cant put my finger on right now.

On the affiliate/magazine side of things I have seen first hand so many cases of smaller-2nd tier online poker rooms refusing or unable to pay, more than I can count.

Bull_G8er said...

Certainly some good points, especially around cautioning the jump from loving poker to loving working for a poker site, and definitely avoiding sketchy operators is something to mind. However, everything you listed here could also be said about every industry. In fact, the reality that everyone agrees poker is built off a 52 card deck with 4 suits may make it far more tangible than technology, pharma, insurance, consulting, etc. I do not have experience working in online poker, but I would not take the bet a company run by MBA's, ex-salesmen, or programmers will by definition run more smoothly than one run by a group of poker pros.

Oliver Drend said...

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