Weekly Poker Update: November 2, 2020

Weekly Poker Update Jonathan Duhamel

When we think about men or women winning a big real money poker tournament, it’s hard to ever imagine it as being a bad situation. After all, the lasting image is usually that winner surrounded by big piles of cash as a symbol of what their skill and luck has wrought. What could be wrong with any of that?

A Taxing Situation

Well, there is the small matter of having to pay taxes on those winnings. Taxes are at the heart of a case involving a former champion of the biggest poker tournament of all. The nature of what it takes to win at poker is also a big element of this interesting skirmish.

Back in 2010, Canadian Jonathan Duhamel was at the top of the poker world after the winning the Main Event at the prestigious World Series of Poker. That is obviously a high level of success to attain, something that you would think would require a lot of poker skill. But Duhamel’s success in the case may come down to whether he can prove his poker winnings were a result of luck.

The Canadian government is trying to collect $1.2 million from Duhamel. This is despite the fact that poker winnings are generally in the clear in Canada, in part because it is considered a game of chance. Perhaps the level of success that Duhamel has achieved is putting him in the crosshairs.

Pro Poker Player Jonathan Duhamel

There are several tentacles of the argument with which Canada’s tax officials are trying to snag Duhamel. First of all, his high-profile win in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker gained him a sponsorship with PokerStars. And part of the payback for that relationship came in tournament buy-ins, which would seem to give Duhamel an edge on winning beyond any luck.

Second, there was Duhamel’s practice of swapping action, which also has been cited by the government in their case. For those who don’t know, swapping action is the practice of a player promising shares of tournament winnings to other players as they do the same for you.

It’s a way of ensuring that you come out with something even if you don’t play well. But the Canadian government argues the hedging practice bucks against the whole “game of chance” concept.

Canada is trying to say that Duhamel was using poker as his sole profession. This argument falls apart a bit upon closer inspection, because that would seem to open up the doors for all other top Canadian pros to get zinged. After all, most of them use poker as their main source of making a living.

For Duhamel’s part, the crux of his argument is that all of the above only occurred because of his success playing the game. If it all came from a game of luck to start, Duhamel seems to be arguing, then it’s all lucky, and, therefore, not taxable.

Both sides seem to be stretching it a bit. On the government’s side of the equation, it does seem like there is a bit of a double standard in place, as Duhamel is being treated much differently from most other poker players in the country.

Meanwhile, if you had asked Duhamel following his Main Event win a decade ago if he won purely because of luck, he likely would have taken exception to that. There is definitely a skill set that separates the best players from lesser ones in poker. To deny that is the case seems a little bit skewed, at best.

We’ll have to watch and see how all this turns out in the end. In any case, it should be a warning to future Canadian pros to make some sort of concession to the possibility that the Taxman could be coming for any poker winnings they amass, especially if those winnings happen to be substantial.

Poker Show Revival

There was a time where it seemed when it seemed that every television channel to which you turned featured some sort of poker competition. In the past few years, poker on television has slowed to a bit of a trickle. But as a byproduct, the practice of streaming live poker events has grown at an enormous rate.

It now appears that those two worlds are about to collide. First of all, the long-rumored return of High Stakes Poker appears to be coming to fruition. A recent trailer promised that new episodes are being taped, with the date for the return set for December 16.

High Stakes Poker TV Show Screenshot

For now, however, it appears that the show, which was known for the big money at stake each episode and the fun commentary from Gabe Kaplan, will be found in the online sphere. PokerGo is behind the reboot, and, at first glance, there doesn’t appear to be any network television component.

Also on the way back: Poker After Dark, another staple of poker television in the boom area of the early 2000s. In this case, this show has already seen life in the online sphere at PokerGo. It also appears to be slated for a December return after about a year away.

No details have been released to this point about who will be participating, if there are any format changes, how many episodes, etc. And, as we said, we don’t know yet if any networks will be playing along.

These two shows are beloved brands in the poker world, so the hope is that they could catch on in any sphere. And, even if they don’t start with any kind of television support, maybe they will do well enough to get to that point.

In any case, we are assuming that these shows will show folks sitting at actual poker tables, interacting in enjoyable ways, and winning big chunks of money for their Texas Holdem expertise. It was a combustible formula once before, and it certainly could be once again. It will be interesting to see how well these ventures do as we head into the end of this year and the beginning of the next.