“It’s amazing to me how vast sums of money are agreed upon with a simple text message.”
Though it generally goes unnoticed by the casual observer, staking plays a significant—if somewhat controversial role—in the poker ecosystem. For players, it’s a good way to stay solvent. For investors, it’s an opportunity to make money from the sidelines.

“The World Series of Poker is a great time to make investments in the same way that a day trader is going to be buying stocks or options,” said Andrew Barber, a former engineer who turned to poker after he lost his job during the financial crisis. “It’s amazing to me how vast sums of money are agreed upon with a simple text message.”

But staking isn’t always about the money. For many players, it’s also an extension of a genuine friendship. Last summer, after Barber won a tournament for half a million dollars, one of his first instincts was to celebrate the victory with his friend and longtime backer, who had put up a 25 percent of the buy-in.

“I ended up handing him two $50,000 bricks of cash,” he told me. “It was a really touching moment. We had a heart to heart and I thanked him for sticking with me through all the years. By my estimates I probably lost him maybe $30,000 to $35,000 in the two or three years prior to that.”

Unfortunately, things are not usually so rosy. Staking terms are frequently disputed, tax issues become muddled, deadlines for cash transfers are forgotten or ignored. The traditional staking world is full of bitter disputes that drag on for years with little hope for resolution. Sometimes the money just disappears entirely.