University student wins big playing online poker

Brandon Ressler said he has won approximately $10,000 through poker.

Some call it a sport; others call it a hobby or an addiction.

Finance sophomore Brandon Ressler calls it his job.

The North Dakota native said he spends 20 hours a week playing online poker. He said that he started in February after figuring he could beat the majority of online players he observed.

Since Ressler started playing, the 19-year-old said, he has made approximately $10,000 before taxes, money he diverts to his Roth IRA retirement account and uses for day-to-day expenses.

But Ressler said his sizeable winnings are no big deal.

“There aren’t any long-term benefits to having this sort of job,” he said.

After saving $100 he won in poker games on campus and around the Twin Cities, Ressler said, he opened a cash account with an online poker site, despite his friends’ efforts to discourage him.

“They all tried to talk me out of it Ö they thought I was going to lose everything,” Ressler said. He said he doubled his buy-in, or the amount of money a player starts a game with, on the first day.

Twelve days later, Ressler said, he had $1,000 in his account.

Poker as a part-time job

Ressler said he puts approximately 20 hours a week into gaming, earning approximately $300 per week. He said that figure is approximately double the hourly rate of what he made working at a grocery store, McDonald’s or the Bismarck, N.D., Parks and Recreation District.

Ressler said his success encouraged two of his friends to join within a month, but a third friend was skeptical.

“I figured that after a couple of big wins, the site would take all of your money, like the slots do,” said Casey Litchke, a University student and Ressler’s friend.

In response, Ressler offered to bankroll Litchke for $50. Litchke has won $2,300 since.

Ressler said he had to convince himself to play online. While he usually comes out ahead, there are times when he questions whether he should play at all.

“All the times I had bad beats, I would have quit. It’s so depressing, and you can’t shake off a $200 pot very quickly,” he said.

Ressler now charts his performance so he can see patterns and trends in his play, he said. It also helps take the sting out of bad luck because he can see how much he has won in the past week at any time, which often dwarfs the pot he could have lost, he said.

By doing this, Ressler has been able to distinguish between luck and skill.

“Short term, it’s gambling, because the outcome is uncertain. But over time, everybody gets the same hands, and the player that makes the least mistakes gets the money,” he said.

Illegal winnings

Online gambling is a criminal activity, said Jim Arlt, of the state Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement division.

Arlt said that because of the Federal Wire Act, anyone who gambles online is committing a state and federal crime, and any credit card company used to pay online gambling Web sites or Internet service providers used to access them might be guilty as accomplices to the crime.

Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department, said that because there aren’t many complaints filed, there is no reason to investigate gambling on campus.

However, he said he is concerned for students who gamble online.

“That person was gambling with more than his money,” Johnson said.

He said giving personal information to any Web site, including online casinos, could easily lead to a person being scammed or having his or her identity stolen.

Ressler said he is concerned about the legality of his winnings but does not plan on quitting.

“I know it’s illegal, but I pay taxes on what I win, and it’s a victimless crime,” he said. “Some people pay to be entertained, and some people do the entertaining.” 

Ressler’s passion for poker goes beyond cards, and he said he is “very lucky” to get paid for doing what he loves.

His room is full of crates containing poker books, statistic sheets on the wall near his computer and a painting of two aces, the best starting hand. Ressler said he rarely watches television unless poker is on, and his favorite movies are about poker.

But he said playing cards isn’t always fun.

Ressler remembers a two-month dry spell in which he went without any significant earnings. He said even the best players go through rough times, such as Phil Hellmuth, 1989 World Series of Poker No Limit Hold’em champion, who dropped out of the University of Wisconsin to play poker professionally, saved $100,000 and went to Las Vegas, where he lost it all – twice.

Ressler said he does not respect professional poker players.

“What do you talk about with someone that plays poker for a living? I don’t know what service they provide for society,” he said.

“I’ll work a 9-to-5 job, even if it means having to put up with the boss every day. At least I’ll be doing something.”

– Freelance Editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected].