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Big poker winnings draw the eye of the tax man

Tue, Jul 23, 6:52pm by Staff Writer

Following two exciting weeks of play, the 2019 World Series of Poker Main Event has concluded, with Germany’s Hossein Ensan now the latest Main Event champion after topping the field of nearly 9,000 players to claim the $10 million first prize.

Poker News is reporting that Italy’s Dario Sammartino took second place for $6 million, with Alex Livingston taking home a $4 million prize, with each of those making the final table having earned at least $1 million for doing so.

Or so they thought.

Federally licenced tax professional, poker player and writer Russ Fox shared with the poker world his annual look at the tax obligations faced by each of the nine players who made the WSOP Main Event final table.

As Fox has shown before, when we say a player has won a certain, eye-popping amount for winning the Main Event or making the final table, the player’s actual profit is for something less than the reported total thanks to having to pay income tax on the earnings.

Ensan’s profile has been growing since his appearance on the European Poker Tour five years ago, with the German reiterating his status as an amateur player both before and after his win last week.

While Ensan saying so fits well with his overall humble and amiable personality, Fox points out how in Germany his status as a professional or amateur is important when determining his tax obligation.

A federal law passed in Germany two years ago “ruled that professional gamblers must pay income tax on their net gambling winnings (less expenses),” and that “amateur gamblers do not have to pay income tax on gambling winnings.”

As Fox explains, if Ensan does have to pay tax on his $10 million prize, he will owe more than $4.6 million in taxes to Germany’s Federal Central Tax Office.

Among the other eight players, only seventh-place finisher Nick Marchington escapes having to pay tax on his $1.525 million prize since the United Kingdom does not tax gambling winnings.


Meanwhile, each of the others will be paying taxes, in most cases to their home countries and in the US to home states as well.

The Canadian Livingston will not have to pay tax in Canada on his winnings but will owe 30 per cent of his $4 million prize to the US due to a tax treat between the two countries.

Fox explains as well how ninth-place finisher Milos Skrbic would have been taxed differently if he lived in his native Serbia, but he currently lives in California.

In either case, though, Skrbic would owe a great burden – calculating it as a California resident shows he will owe the most of all players percentage wise  at 47.4 per cent when it comes to paying taxes on his $1 million prize.

Poker bot the best yet

In 2017, a poker bot named “Libratus” developed by researchers at Carnegie Melon University, led by Professor Tuomos Sandholm and PhD student Noam Brown beat some of the best heads-up poker pros in the world in Texas Hold’Em over a large sample size.

The latest poker bot developed by the same researchers in a joint project between Facebook AI and CMU was able to do something that no other AI has achieved – beat multiple strong players in the incomplete information game of no limit Texas Hold’Em in a six-handed format, and it did so more efficiently than any other documented poker bot before it.

The bot is called Pluribus, and it was able to reliably beat human players, Poker News reports.

It was designed for six-max poker and took on some top players, all with successful six-max results and more than $1 million in earnings.

There is plenty to learn from Pluribus from a poker player’s perspective, even though poker applications are not the researchers’ primary purposes for poker AI research.

Since the bot did not work from human data, it made some unconventional plays that proved profitable against some of the best players in the world.

Some players may take away benefits in terms of strategy, some poker tools like solvers may be able to incorporate strategic elements learned from Pluribus.

It remains to be seen how the applications of the research will play out, and whether or not the benefits will outweigh the potential malicious applications.

For now, savvy poker players will likely look to glean benefits from the findings – at least those not afraid to look stupid at the felt by taking unconventional lines or running high variance players.


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