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Billy Baxter started gambling in his early teens when he figured out he could hustle pool in local pool halls. He took to pool so quickly that he built a $5,000 bankroll by the time he could drive. The dark rooms in the less than savory establishments of Augusta, Georgia are where Baxter found poker. Baxter’s made-for-Hollywood life that would eventually see him win seven WSOP bracelets and bring a landmark lawsuit against the federal government that would change the lives of all professional gamblers started from the humblest of beginnings.
Stu Ungar called the Baxter the best lowball poker player in the world, not so coincidently all seven of his bracelets have come in variations of lowball poker. Baxter won a bracelet for Deuce to Seven Draw five times: 1975, 1978, 1982, 1987, and 1993. He won another bracelet in Ace to Five Draw in 1982 and then won another bracelet in 2002 in Razz. Baxter has had three money finishes in the Main Event; he placed 22nd in 1997, 37th in 2001, and 136th in 2007.
Baxter’s landmark court case, Baxter v. United States, was filed because the IRS did not recognize professional gambling as an occupation and subject to a much higher tax rate. The crux of Baxter’s case was that gaming constituted a trade or business and as such the income generated from gambling was personal service income. The court found that money once bet would produce no income without Baxter’s skill, thus recognizing poker as a game of skill. Proponents fighting the UIGEA cite Baxter’s case when proving that poker is a game of skill.
Baxter only meant to stop in Las Vegas after a Hawaiian honeymoon, but he enjoyed the action so much the newlywed couple lived in the Dunes for nine months. Baxter played with the legends like Doyle, Treetop Straus, Sailor Roberts, and Puggy Pearson – and won.
Baxter continued to win in poker, but developed into one of the most successful sports bettors in Vegas. His talents for handicapping took time away from the poker table as his profits from betting exceeded what he could make playing poker, but poker was a release for him and he never quit playing.
Baxter’s high action led to a complex, and sometimes volatile, relationship with the late Stu Ungar. Baxter was Ungar’s principle backer during the 80s and 90s, and bought Ungar into the 1997 World Series where he won an unprecedented third Main Event bracelet.
Baxter was elected into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2006 along side T.J. Cloutier. Baxter can still be found in Las Vegas’ poker rooms and the sports books.