Poker Winnings are not ‘Earnings’ Court Rules

In a unique decision which helps to define the boundaries of employment, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a professional poker player was not obliged to contribute to the upkeep of his children from his gambling winnings.

After being made redundant from his well-paid job as a financial broker, the father had chosen to devote himself to poker, achieving some public recognition through his success at the table. He had nevertheless declined to support his children and their mother had made an application to the Child Support Agency.

In those circumstances, an issue arose as to whether his gambling winnings constituted ‘earnings’ from gainful employment within the meaning of the Child Support (Maintenance Assessments and Special Cases) Regulations 1992. The Upper Tribunal (UT) found that poker was no mere hobby for the father; that he was a ‘self-employed earner’ and that he was thus obliged to pay child maintenance.

Approaching the case by analogy to tax legislation, the Court acknowledged that it was conceivable that a professional gambler’s activities might reach such a pitch of systemic organisation that they could be viewed as a business and that winnings so generated might be taxable, although, in practice, they never were.

The father had appeared on television, had his own website on which he discussed his strategies, and carefully selected tables which were most likely to pay him. However, in allowing his appeal, the Court found that his gambling was not sufficiently organised to amount to a trade, profession or vocation. In those circumstances, his winnings could not be viewed as earnings from gainful employment within the ambit of the Regulations.