Fans rooting for John Dolan when the 24-year-old college dropout sits down at this weekend’s World Series of Poker main event final table will include family, friends and EvilCPA.
That’s one of two online poker names for Ann-Margaret Johnston, a 42-year-old Atlanta-based certified public accountant, who has built a client roster of more than 200 professional poker players, including Dolan and several millionaires under the age of 21. She charges $250 an hour for her advice on taxes and other financial matters.
One of her first clients was Chris Moneymaker, a then-27-year-old Tennessee accountant who won the $2.5 million prize at the 2003 World Series of Poker after qualifying online for $39.
“After Chris won, everybody thought they could be a poker player,” Johnston, who started playing poker during her first visit to Las Vegas in 1997, said in an interview. “I’m trying to help them with their money so they don’t get stupid.”
Johnston said about 30 percent of her business comes from poker clients, declining to give a dollar figure for revenue.
“It’s rare to have a few hundred professional poker players as your core client base,” Bill Roberts, a spokesman for the American Institute of CPAs, said in a telephone interview. “You don’t see that very often.”
Dolan, a Florida State University dropout, is one of the nine players at the final table and Johnston’s newest client. The main event concludes on Nov. 8 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and has a first prize of $8.9 million.
As a member of the so-called November Nine, Dolan will bring 46.25 million chips to the final table, the second-biggest total behind Jonathan Duhamel’s 65.98 million chip stack. Johnston, who has operated her own accounting practice for 15 years, will be there to make sure Dolan keeps as much of his winnings as possible. All nine players are guaranteed at least $811,823.
“It’s just a relief to have someone you know who is going to take care of you the right way and not make mistakes,” Dolan said in a telephone interview. “The fact that she actually understands both sides of it makes her the clear-cut favorite and makes you want to use her.”
Johnston plays online under the screen names EvilCPA and CPAEvil, and finished third in the Ladies Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event in January, earning $9,335.
At tax time, poker players face questions ranging from what income they should claim to whether they should file as a professional or amateur, Johnston said. Poker tax laws also vary from state to state. For online games, she suggests her clients keep spreadsheets with extensive details of each game they play in case they get audited.
Poker participation surged after the 2003 event, creating what has become known as the “Moneymaker effect.” In 2004, World Series of Poker entrants tripled to 2,576 from 839 a year earlier. The 2010 series drew 7,319 entrants, the second-most behind the 8,773 entrants in 2006. Ninety-seven percent of this year’s entrants are men, according to Seth Palansky, a World Series of Poker spokesman.
Shares of Gibraltar-based PartyGaming Plc, the largest publicly-traded online gaming company by market capitalization, have risen 3.1 percent in the last 12 months.
Online poker players in the U.S. are projected to pay $1.3 billion in fees to gaming companies this year, up from $224 million in 2003, according to Manchester, England-based consulting firm H2 Gambling Capital. During the same period, global fees paid to gambling companies have climbed to $5.4 billion from $323 million.
Poker as a Business
The growth has produced players like 21-year-old Carter Phillips, who has won more than $1.7 million. He called Johnston because his mother told him to.
After his mother bought a book Johnston wrote about turning poker into a business in a Charlotte, North Carolina, bookstore, Phillips did some research and gave her a call.
“Most of the other accountants didn’t know how to handle taking wins and losses and dealing with all of the online stuff,” said Phillips. “They didn’t know how to deal with where the money was coming from.”
Dolan was referred to Johnston by his financial backer Brian Hawkins, a fellow poker player and Johnston client.
Dolan, who has won more than $1 million as a poker pro, doesn’t own a home, drives an 8-year-old Infinity I-35 sedan and mostly stays with friends while traveling to tournaments.
“I’m pretty simple,” he said. “I’d rather be a little conservative right now, but one of the first things I want to do is buy a house and a new car.”
One of the first calls Jeff Williams made after winning $1 million was to Johnston.
“When I had my big score I just knew I would have to pay a bunch of taxes,” said Williams, whose winnings came in the European Poker Tour Grand Final in Monte Carlo in 2006 while he was a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Georgia. “It just gets so complicated.”
After Williams used Johnston to do his taxes that first year, he began referring more of his college friends and poker competitors her way.
“A lot of them are between 18 and 21 and are multimillionaires,” said Johnston. “They all get irritated that they have to pay all these taxes. Yeah, well, welcome to the real world.”
----With assistance from Mason Levinson in New York. Editors: Anita Sharpe, Larry Siddons.