As poker stars go, Burt Boutin isn't the best known. Still, the player nicknamed "Red Bull Burt" has won more than $2 million in World Series of Poker tournaments and has been a regular face on ESPN's featured tables.
Although it's not like this full-time Las Vegas resident doesn't have a regular job. He does: Professional money manager.
Boutin could, if he chose to, trade slow days tracking S&P blue chips in exchange for fast nights amassing chips at the tables. But he's not giving up his day job.
"I get burned out playing poker," Boutin, 42, admits. "It gets old – but the stock market is constantly challenging me."
In recent years, the financial industry and high-stakes professional poker realms have been increasingly intersecting, with a number of Wall Street figures crossing over into the WSOP scene. Online poker's popularity, meanwhile, has exploded into a $10 billion-plus industry despite government measures to curb Internet gambling.
Poker playing may well be today what day trading was in the 1990s. On any given day, at any given moment, hundreds of thousands of players are glued to their computer screens competing on virtual tables. "PokerStars" and "Full Tilt" are two of the more popular sites featuring more than 60,000 combined games between them that run nonstop and cost between $10 and $200 to buy into.
Online poker is extremely popular among Wall Street types.
"Poker is a trader's game," says Scott Redler, cofounder of T3, a Manhattan-based day trading firm. "Roulette, blackjack, those are based more on luck. But with a game like No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, you need patience and discipline, or in other words the exact same skills needed to be a good trader."
Boutin, a Philadelphia native, started out as a stock broker in the 1990s and made his way to the Las Vegas poker circuit in 2001.
"He's a sharp guy and a good card player but it was surprising to see how quickly he made it into the upper echelon of that world," says Burt's younger brother, Clinton Boutin, a financial consultant based in New York City.
The older Boutin began to snag some coveted WSOP event bracelets (awarded to winners of the many various poker tournament events that are affiliated with the WSOP beyond the signature $10,000 No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em Main Event) right around the time national interest in poker, in particular Texas Hold 'Em, began to surge.
The popularity of the 1998 movie "Rounders" coupled with ESPN's decision a few years later to regularly televise Vegas poker beyond the annual WSOP Main Event, transformed the game from smoky back rooms to a worldwide phenomenon.
Along the way, celebrity players, such as Johnny Chan, became household names. Chris Moneymaker, an online player, won the main WSOP event championship in 2003, giving hope to regular guys on home computer players everywhere.
"It's just gotten unbelievably competitive," Boutin says of the professional Vegas poker scene.