A stockbroker turned professional poker player has been told by the Appeal Court he does not have to use his winnings to pay child support. In Hakki v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, three judges ruled that Tony Hakki’s winnings did not come from ‘gainful employment’ so it could not be declared as income. Lord Justice Longmore ruled:
“On the facts found I do not consider that it can be said that Mr Hakki had a sufficient organisation in his poker playing to make it amount to a trade (or a business) let alone a profession or a vocation.” Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Pitchford agreed with his assessment.
Hakki had appealed a previous ruling which said poker playing constituted gainful employment. His claim in the appeal was that as calculating a parent’s net income in child support cases is based on taxable profits, his winnings should not be counted as HMRC has never taxed money won by gambling. The former financial broker started playing poker professionally after being made redundant from his job in 1998. Hakki’s ex-wife, and mother of his children, had originally asked the Child Support Agency to order him to pay maintenance on the grounds that his poker playing counted as a profession. Her lawyer submitted:
“Mr Hakki was a professional gambler just as much as a professional golfer or a professional tennis player made gains or profits from his professional activities.”
Despite the ruling, Lord Justice Longmore did acknowledge that the mother still had options should she wish to pursue the matter further. He stated:
“One quite understands [the original judge’s] anxiety to hold that Mr Hakki should make the appropriate contribution to his children’s upbringing when he is apparently quite able to make that contribution.”
“[T]here may be a way to compel him to make such contribution by making a “departure direction“.”
A departure direction can be made if the Secretary of State is satisfied the current assessment of child support is based on a level of income substantially lower than the level required to support the overall lifestyle of the parent in question. Lord Justice Longmore could not say whether Hakki’s ex-wife would be successful with such an appeal, but admitted “the opportunity of making such an application appears to exist”. The written ruling by the judges did not disclose any details of the relationship between Hakki and his ex-wife, nor how many children were involved.