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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Billy Baxter

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Lately we’ve focused on a lot of the “Young Guns” of poker in our continuing “Where Are They Now,” series, so I thought it would be fun to go back and examine one of the true legends of the game, Billy Baxter.  Even though he won his first World Series of Bracelet way back in 1975, this legend continues to find success in recent times, including winning two WPT events in 2008 just five days apart.  Also, as we will get into a little bit later, all professional gamblers everywhere owe Baxter a debt of gratitude, as he was largely responsible for saving you all thousands and possibly million of dollars a year.  But as always, let us start at the beginning.

Billy Baxter was born 1940 in Augusta, Georgia.  As a youngster there was no gambling around him at all.  His parents were hard working people, with his dad running a general store on a military base and his mother managing an insurance company.  When Baxter was about 14 he wanted a part-time job during the summer, so his mother brought him along with her when she made house calls.  It was his job to go into town and look for potential customers for his mother.
Things didn’t quite work out that way, as a young Baxter noticed that almost every town they traveled to there was a pool hall.  Finally curiosity got the best of him, and overtime instead of doing any work for his mother, he did all his work in pool halls, becoming one of the best known pool hustlers in the surrounding areas.  He would have been able to keep this a secret, but one day his visiting grandmother noticed his banking transaction book and saw that he had over $5,000 dollars to his name, an almost unheard of amount for a 16 year old boy in this time period, especially one that didn’t come from a rich family.  His parents, especially his mother, were outraged, threatening to have every pool hall shut down in the area.  Baxter was scared of his mother’s threats, but gambling was now in his blood, and he couldn’t bring himself to stop going.

While in these pool halls he often noticed a group of guys huddled in the corner playing poker or gin rummy.  For about two years, before Baxter got the hang of either game, he would bring all his winnings from the pool table over to the poker table, only to lose it all.  Back and forth he would go between the two tables, the one he excelled at and the one he constantly failed at.  However, before too long he started holding his own at both tables.  While he enjoyed gin rummy, he liked poker even more, and had his first thoughts as a young man that he could potentially make a living from that game.
While poker wasn’t his profession in his early 20’s, gambling was, as he eventually became the sole owner of an underground casino, named the Paisley Club, in Augusta, Georgia.  He started off as partial owner, but eventually bought the entire thing with money he was winning from the other owner, a degenerate gambler.  Eventually police in the area forced him to shut down the establishment.  However, a few months after shutting it down he opened a casino on the outskirts of town, with the intention of shutting it down right after The Masters golf tournament.  Just two days into the tournament he was shut down, and told of an impending court date that eventually sent him away to jail for nine months.

Before he was sent to jail, he discovered Las Vegas for the first time on his way back from his honeymoon in Hawaii.  What was only intended to be a one night stay turned into nine months, as both he and his wife liked it so much.  While there he entered his first World Series of Poker tournament, winning it, and adding $35,000 to his bankroll in the process.  Shortly after winning this though, he was called back to Georgia to serve his jail time.  

When he was getting ready to leave he was approached by his new friends Jack Binion and Doyle Brunson.   Baxter, a short man, has gotten up to 205 pounds, and they both bet him $5,000 that he couldn’t get down to 165 by the time he got out of prison.  On the surface it seems like just another silly bet, despite a man going to jail.  But in reality it was a way for Baxter to concentrate on something while serving his time.  Baxter’s first act after getting out of jail was to return to Vegas to step on the scale.  It read 163 pounds, and Baxter was $10,000 richer.

Also when he returned, the WSOP Bracelets kept coming.  How is this for success?  The first four WSOP events he placed in, he won.  His second bracelet came in 1978, and his third and fourth both came in 1982.  All four of those bracelets came in draw games, in which Baxter has been considered one of the best draw players to ever play.  In fact, all seven of Baxter’s bracelets, with his last being in 2002 in Razz, have came in lowball draw games.  His seven bracelets put him fifth all-time for bracelets won.  Baxter was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.

As I alluded to in the first paragraph though, Baxter’s greatest gambling successes came at the least likely of places, the court room.  In the early 1980’s the IRS said that Baxter’s gambling earnings from 1978 to 1981 should be classified as “unearned income” and making it taxable up to 70 percent.  Baxter argued that he made his money the same way a golfer did, by succeeding on the golf course, thus for making it “earned income.”  In 1986 the US Government ruled in favor of Baxter, and in turn made the profession of “Professional Poker Player” a legal one in the eyes of the government.
Baxter is another one of those players that I feel could easily have a few thousand more words written about him.  However, this story shows both his greatest accomplishments at the tournament table, and the progress he made for all poker players away from it.

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