Yes, professional poker players are allowed in casinos and poker rooms.
Poker pros are simply more skilled than the average poker players and this allows them to win consistently. This is not unethical, nor does it affect the way casinos profit from poker.
As a casino dealer, I’ve seen a few professional poker players, including many whose poker earnings were simply a side hustle.
One or two eventually got banned, but not because they were professionals.
What does “professional poker player” mean?
To be fair, there is no standard definition.
Typically, you would say someone is a semi-professional when they are able to generate an extra income from poker.
And you’d call “professional poker player” anyone who makes a living from the game — whether that’s their only income source, or main income source.
To reach the level where you can do that, you need to be really good. This is because nowadays most players actually know what they’re doing.
This means you no longer have an edge against the average player by simply studying the basics.
That being said, there are still many poker pros out there — people who consistently make money from tournaments and cash games.
Poker skills ≠ Cheating
Any form of cheating, including manipulating the house edge, will get you banned from a casino.
However, being good at poker does not equal cheating. Nor is it unfair, or unethical.
The goal of the game is to… win, at least in the long run. And professional poker players simply use their skills to have an advantage over their opponents.
And for those who are wondering, most of the time weaker players actually enjoy playing against professionals.
By playing against a really good player, you get the chance to observe them and see how they play. This can be fascinating, and if you’re smart, you could also learn a few of their “tricks”.
Poker tables cannot lose money
If you sit at the blackjack table and get lucky, you win. And the casino loses money.
Same for roulette, baccarat, casino war, craps, and all other casino games where you basically play against the dealer — the house.
Now, in poker, this is different.
An exceptionally good poker player, such as a professional, does not affect the way casinos and card rooms make money on poker.
In poker tournaments, you pay a fee, which is included in the buy-in.
As for cash games, casinos make money with the rake — a small percentage of each pot, usually capped (e.g. a cap of $5 means the dealer cannot take more than $5 from the pot no matter how big it is).
For higher limit games, some card rooms prefer to charge an hourly fee. But in general, profit comes from the rake, including online rooms.
Reasons poker players may not be allowed to play
So, as we’ve seen, there is no real reason for casinos to ban professional poker players.
They’re not doing anything unethical, they don’t affect the house edge, and most players are actually happy to play against them.
This means a poker pro can get banned only if he or she goes against any of the rules. Examples:
- Soft play (when a player deliberately saves their opponent chips by not raising or betting; not allowed as this affects the whole table).
- Cheating, such as stealing or hiding chips, mucking only one card, peeking at the opponent’s cards, and so on. This is pretty obvious.
- Angles. This refers to actions that are not technically cheating, but that go against basic etiquette. The kind of thing that results in disputes or even fights.
- Checks, especially money laundering checks. Casinos must adhere to gambling laws and may be required to ask for proof of a player’s income. If the player is not able to show or prove any of that, they may not be allowed to play.
- Dealer abuse. Thankfully, casinos have become a lot stricter in terms of what the players can say and do to the dealers, including poker dealers. Abuse that is not acceptable will likely lead to a ban.
A professional poker player banned from a casino
Here’s an example of a professional poker player who actually got banned from a casino.
A few years ago, poker pro William Kassouf — whose antics have tilted quite a few players — got banned from all UK Grosvenor casinos.
The reason? Apparently, William had had a few drinks and decided to play roulette with his friends.
Then, after the dealer paid out a bet with a few £100 chips, Kassouf tried to pocket a few of those, although they were not his chips.
This resulted in a ban, although it’s not clear whether it was temporary or permanent.
A day later, Kassouf apologized on his Twitter profile, and said he “made an error of judgment” which he “greatly regretted”.