Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I play a lot more poker now than I used to, and I'm playing for gradually larger and larger sums of money. That is, I win larger and larger sums of money. Not enough to buy a mansion and retire, mind you, but enough so that it's approaching a level where it might change my life style a bit, in terms of what I - or rather, we - can afford. It used to be extra spending cash here and there, now we're looking at what will probably become essentially a third income.

This brings with it a problem for me if I continue playing at PokerStars, and it's the fact that technically, I'm supposed to pay taxes for my winnings there. I say "technically" not as an indication that I think it's something I'd want to dodge, but only "technically" because the law is very confusing on this point. The law states, in essence, three things:

1. I must pay taxes on income from poker outside of the European Union.
2. I must pay taxes on all winnings that are bigger than 100 SEK (~$15)
3. I'm not allowed to deduct money I've lost.

#1 is only slightly confusing. There's no gray area when it comes to PokerStars, since that's registered on Costa Rica which in no way, shape or form can be considered the EU. It's trickier with certain other poker sites that have their headquarters in one country and their servers in another. Where exactly am I "playing poker" in that case?

#2 is a bit "huh?" Does that mean that I only pay taxes on the pots that get larger than $15? So if I play a gazillion hands of small stakes hold 'em where no pots reach a size larger than $15, I can make a fortune and still be tax excempt? It seems weird. But of course, nowhere near as weird as..

#3. This is so fucked up. Instead of telling you exactly what the outcome was, let me suggest that you try an experiment on your own: Imagine that you play 100k hands in a year. Furthermore, let's say that the average pot is $20. This is pretty standard for a $3/$6 limit hold 'em game, for instance. Finally, let's say that you break even over these 100k hands. If you win one hand out of every six (at a 6-max game) and the average size of the pots that you win is $20, then you've won ~17k hands, for roughly $20 each. Or differently put, the sum of all the pots you've won is a third of a million dollars.

After a break-even year like this, you would be owing the Swedish goverment a hundred grand.

See a problem, there?

Anyway, this will most likely be settled in some kind of ground breaking court decision within the near future since there's quite a few Swedes who rely heavily on poker for income, and I know that at least some of them play on non-Euro sites. However, and this is the point I'm belatedly coming to, I don't particularly fancy the prospect of being the martyr for that trial.

In other words, it's not worth it for me to be playing at non-European sites, so I won't. And thus avoid all the fuss and potential problems.

It was with this in mind that I went looking for a new site to join. A bit on a whim - I tend to do things on a whim - I settled on Betway, which is a part of the Microgaming (formerly Prima) network. I downloaded the client, set up my account and...

... couldn't log in. I could log in to their website just fine. But not to the poker client. Which is odd. I'm very good with computers. I'm a senior software engineer. I'm a programmer. I'm good with passwords and keyboards. When I consistently fail to log in, it's usually not the case that I "had caps-lock on" or some other weird mistake. No, the problem was with their software - although they surely wouldn't admit to it being a "problem" - and it's a suckiness on a grand scale.

I mean, I've been pissed off about software bugs before. But this pisses me off just a little bit extra.

They don't allow special characters in the password. That's right, !"#¤%&/()=?`''¨^ etc. are not allowed. Since I'm a believer in high password strength passwords, it pisses me off a bit that it seems my password has to be limited to something with only alpha-numerical characters. Of course, this was not my immediate thought when I couldn't log in so I emailed support. Betway support, in turn, are either not aware of this problem or they didn't think that I'd be so stupid to make a password that has weird characters in it, because they didn't mention this to me. I had to figure it out on my own. "Figuring it out on my own" included Lori creating an account at Betway and logging on, which worked, and that in turn made me start questioning what the difference between her account creation and mine was. Clearly it wasn't a network problem since we're on the same network.

... so I tried a new password without the special characters. This time it worked. I asked Betway if this was the case, and only then did they say "yes, try a password with only letters and numbers." To make matters worse, the non-alpha-numeric password works fine on their website, just not in the client. I gather that there's a possibility that it's actually MicroGaming that sucks, and not Betway, but since I'm a customer of Betway's, I reserve the right to direct my frustration at them.

As you can see, Betway and I did not get off to a good start. Which is perhaps why the other problems I experience at their site irks me so much more than they perhaps should. And this is what irks me the most:

I can't top off my stack until the next hand. This has the following consequence:

$200NL, I'm dealt AQo in the small blind. $199 in my stack since I put in $1 blind. It's folded to the button, who opens to $8. I 3-bet him to $25 and he shoves a full stack. At this point, I have a fairly routine fold to me, but my stack is now down to $175. And here's the crux: There is no way for me to start the next hand with $200. I will have to play the button with less than a full stack.

At Stars, I can fill up before I make the fold. The money won't show up in my stack until after the hand is over, of course, but this way I can always make sure I start the next hand with a full stack. Quite a few times at Betway, I've been forced to start a hand with even less than half a stack (usually the result of making a big laydown on the turn or the river). On one notable occasion, I was dealt AA the next hand, got it all-in vs. KK and am therefore in effect $100 poorer than I ought to have been. Perhaps you can see why this upsets me.

And it's such a small thing to fix.

Asking Betway support about it, they explain to me that I need to leave the table and sit down again to fill up my stack. Of course, this isn't true at all. So not only did Betway and I not get off to a good start, but we're not really improving our relationship either.

Still, I'll give it a real shot. I'm trying for the $5k initial deposit bonus, which is quite a monster, and looks like it'll require me to play more than 100k hands in 3 months to clear. This is not impossible, but in between working full time, enjoying the summer and spending time with wife and friends, it's going to be tough. I'll see how far I get.


WVHillbilly said...

Good luck with your new site. Have you looked around to try to find an AHK auto reload script for Microgaming sites? Could save you lots of time and money.

Also about being able to deduct losses, are you sure the intent of the law to disallow claiming any loss or just losses greater than gains? I know in the States we can't deduct any losses that are greater than our winnings. So it doesn't matter if we break even or lose 20K, we have no claim either way.

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

The example they give with the legislation is not being allowed to deduct a tournament buy-in from the prize. This shows that the intent of the law is not just to prevent being able to deduct a net loss, but in fact that losses aren't counted at all.

I don't like AHK stuff; I tried it once and it made me all confused and scared of making mistakes. Betway has pre-existing buttons for half-pot, full-pot and all-in, though, so some of the bets I can save a click or two on.

WVHillbilly said...

I personally use 2 AHK sripts on FT. 1 to auto call time so I have a few extra seconds when needed and 1 to top off my stack before the next hand starts. I don't use any scripts for betting.