Poker is a really popular game, accounting for approximately 16.5% of the total overall gambling industry. The online gambling industry was worth around US$60 billion in 2019, and is expected to grow by 50% to over US$90 billion by 2023.
There are around 60 million online poker players in the US; and over 100 million across the globe. Poker players hail from all walks of life, particularly in the digital world, and the allure of big wins and relatively low barriers to entry have made a professional career in poker a realistic prospect.
Who plays professional poker?
Generally speaking, the demographic breakdown of the professional poker players is as follows:
- Predominantly white: over 80% of all professional poker players is white, followed by 8.8% Hispanic/Latino, 6.8% Black, and 2.2% Asian.
- After English, the most commonly spoken languages are Spanish (45.5%), followed by Portuguese, Japanese, French and Mandarin (all 9.1%).
- Almost 90% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- The age breakdown is fairly standard, with a number of younger and older players on the circuit.
- The majority of professional poker players are male, with only 8% female representation.
- LGBTQ+ representation is also low, with under 5%.
It is not surprising that most poker players are straight, white males. Whilst the move online has opened up the industry to more diversity, this will take time to filter through to make the industry more representative. Traditionally, gambling has been dominated by white males, and the skills required to play poker can take a number of years to perfect to get to a professional level, so this group has had a significant advantage.
However, this is changing as a bigger demographic of players is being exposed to poker and being able to access more information and resources to turn pro. Additionally, data shows that Asian players tend to win more money, and increasingly more women are starting to play online, hopefully translating into more female pros.
Top Poker Players
There are many poker players who are famous in other lines of work, and just happen to also be very successful poker payers, and then there are those who have forged a career exclusively in poker.
Beal is the founder of Beal Financial in Texas and is a highly successful, millionaire businessman, with a net worth of around US$6 billion. He is one of the richest poker players, although his earnings aren’t strictly from his winnings. He is well known in the industry for setting up several high stakes games in the early 2000s with some of the world’s top players, including Todd Brunson and Jennifer Harmon, known as The Corporation. He is reported to have won one of the largest cash pots in poker history: US$11.7 million.
Beal’s antics against The Corporation is chronicled in The Professor, The Banker and The Suicide King by Michael Craig. He won some, he lost some, and eventually the pros took him for over US$16 million, and has since moved off the pro scene and plays poker only recreationally, though often losing vast sums in the process.
Better known as an Academy Award Nominated actress, recipient of multiple awards and with multiple film and TV credits to her name, Tilly is also an exceptional poker player. She has won the World Series of Poker Bracelet in 2005, CardPlayer Best Celebrity of the Year Award, WPT Ladies Night Champion and WPT Bellagio Cup 5K.
Her net worth is around US$25 million, and has over US$1 million in live tournament winnings. She also appears on televised poker games such as Poker Night in America. She plays frequently with long-term partner and also poker pro Phil Laak.
Perkins is a highly successful hedge fund manager and film producer with a net worth of around US$50 million. He began playing poker in 2012 and has appeared in a number of major cash games and high stakes tournaments. In 2019 he took sixth place in the US$1 million buy0in Triton Million, netting him a cool US$2.2 million, bringing his tournament prize money to well over US$5 million.
He also runs a reality show on twitch called Team Thirst Lounge, where people play poker in the Virgin Islands; ‘where 10 individuals navigate through the millionaire lifestyle’ essentially mirroring his own life.
‘Kid Poker’ as he is more commonly known has been playing for over 30 years. He is the proud holder of six WSOP bracelets and two WPT titles. He is one of the most successful players in history, with over US$42 million in winnings and net worth of about US$50 million. He has played in all seven seasons of the TV show High Stakes Poker, and two seasons of PokerStars Big Game.
As well as being hugely successful in the world of Poker, Negreanu has expanded his horizons and tried his hand at acting, appearing as a poker player in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as a poker player in The Grand, and as himself in Lucky You. He has also been in music videos, appeared in a PETA campaign and been successful in Hearthstone Competitions.
With 15 WSOP Bracelets and US$23 million in tournament winnings, Helmuth is certainly one of the most successful poker players out there.
As well as many notable tournament wins that have come to be expected of a player of his calibre, Helmuth has also made regular TV appearances on episodes of Poker After Dark both as a player and a commentator, as well as taking part in a PokerGo series High Stakes Duel, where he beat Antonio Esfandero on three consecutive occasions.
He has also had a successful career off the table, endorsing everything from beer, energy drinks, fast food, a casino, and of course, poker sites.