By: Paul Hewson
Two weeks ago, Toronto's Griffin Benger came close to joining a very exclusive group: Canadians with World Series of Poker bracelets. Only 40 people can make that claim, and Benger would have been No. 41 had he won the 2016 WSOP Main Event. Sadly, only one Canadian took home a bracelet this year. Kristen Bicknell from St. Catharines, Ontario, the 2013 WSOP Ladies Champion, won the $1,500 Bounty No Limit Hold'em event for a cool $290,768. Bicknell joined an even-more exclusive club of eight Canadians with multiple bracelets.
The Great White North has produced more WSOP champions than any other country – except for the United States. If my math is right, 706 Americans have won a bracelet thus far. Even if you account for the US having 10 times as many people as Canada, that's an enormous gap in jewellery per capita. Why hasn't Canada, or anyone else in the world, been able to keep up?
One for You, 19 for Me
The answer could be the taxes. Different countries have different tax treaties with the States; anytime a Canadian earns a “substantial” amount of money gambling in the US ($1,200 is often cited), those earnings are subject to a 30% withholding tax. That means Benger only got to keep $875,133 of his $1,250,190 prize for finishing seventh in the Main Event – unless he had some American gambling losses to deduct. Even then, there are forms to fill out, and if you or your people don't do it just right, you might never get your money back.
Despite the monetary disincentive and all that paperwork, a total of 4,586 Canadians decided to make the trip to Vegas this year. That's down from 4,871 in 2015, but it's still the second-largest contingent of players from any country, aside from the 84,027 Americans who showed up at the Rio. While there's no question that the WSOP has become more popular every year, most of that growth is coming from south of the 49th Parallel. Canadians, and poker fans from all over the world, might find themselves even more inclined to play elsewhere next year.