Jaman Burton couldn’t get back into his car and his frustrations were boiling over.
It’s a Tesla Model 3, which Burton calls “sort of a unicorn out in the Midwest” and after a quick trip to the store, groceries in hand, the well-known poker vlogger simply couldn’t get the door to unlock. Not terribly uncommon. That’s when he was approached by a couple. And due to his popularity on YouTube, being approached in bizarre places by fans is also not terribly uncommon. However, this wasn’t someone looking for a photo op or shout-out.
“So I walk up to my car, I’m going to get in and drive away and my car operates on Bluetooth,” Burton said and continued to explain how sometimes the car and his phone, which operates as the key, might lose a connection leading to some extra steps in getting back in. “I pull the door handle, it doesn’t open. I pull it again. It doesn’t open. I’m fiddling around with my phone to unlock my car and this guy comes up to me and he’s like ‘Is this your car?’. I said yes and he looks at me like he doesn’t believe me and said ‘How can someone like you afford a car like this?’”
It was a loaded question. Especially in St. Louis, which years after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the protests and unrest that followed still had a “weird tension in the city”, according to Burton who resided in St. Peters on the west side of St. Louis.
“I instantly went on the defensive, I got aggressive with him. He got aggressive,” Burton said. “I was like ‘What the **** are you talking about? Who the **** are you talking to’…It almost came to blows because she was going to call the police because this ‘obviously wasn’t my car, otherwise, I’d be able to get into it.’ It was just a very unnecessary situation and after that, I was like…‘Yeah, it’s time to go.”
The parking lot incident was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Burton’s unease had been rising for some time, especially in the wake of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year old Black man who was murdered while jogging in Glynn County, GA.
“There would be numerous times where I’d just be walking down the street and just feel anxious. In 2021, that became more prevalent. I had things yelled at me as trucks drove by or people waving Trump flags, I mean, it was just a nutty, nutty year,” he said. “And I was thinking as a 6’2”, 250-pound man, if I’m feeling this way, I can only imagine what my daughter, who’s 11, is feeling in her school.”
At the same time, Burton describes an incident of housing discrimination when trying to purchase a new home, one in which he says the sellers refused his much higher offer for another in an effort to, as he was told, “keep their neighborhood pure.”
It was all exhausting for him. It was at a time when Burton should have been focused on creating, growing, and enjoying the success of his vlog, The Drawing Dead. But with the pandemic was in full swing and with live poker at a standstill, Burton’s vlog was forced to take a backseat just as things were getting good.
“When COVID hit, March of 2020, I had just attended the GPI Poker Awards where I was nominated for the Vlogger of the Year award. My exposure at that point was at an all-time high. If there was a time to leverage and say ‘Okay, I’m going to make my best material while I have some eyes on this.’ that would have been the time. However, COVID hit. The casinos started closing…so there was really no opportunity to vlog.”
Truth be told, not only did COVID hit. Burnout hit as well. The not-so-secret downside to the notoriety that comes with people enjoying your vlogs is the hours and hours that it takes to produce even short videos. Burton had been traveling, playing, vlogging, and still working his day job where he’s a cloud architect for Bayer – a job he’s kept, and enjoyed, throughout all of his poker playing days.
“I just needed a break. So when the COVID thing happened and the casinos shut down, I actually didn’t mind it. I was like…I need a little break.”
Burton turned his attention to non-poker-related things, actually creating vlogs that he never published. He pursued other opportunities both in poker and out and focused on his health and nutrition. And for roughly seven months, The Drawing Dead, the channel that Burton had built up to over 30,000 subscribers with more than 225 videos, went silent.
The decision to move wasn’t an easy one, but one he felt he had to make. Burton had to consider his daughter, who is getting ready to start the sixth grade, as well as her mother who he co-parents with. Ultimately, they decided the time was right.
“Then it just became where to go? We tossed around a couple of places, even thought about Costa Rica,” he said. “And I was like, Vegas. The cost of living is affordable, it’s in our price range, you can get in and out easily and I have friends there. Yeah…let’s just go to Vegas. After that one conversation, my house was on the market, it sold, I had my car packed and I was gone within a month. It was very quick.”
“And instantly after leaving town, all my anxiety faded. As I was driving out of town…just the anxiety of being in that place was lifted almost immediately.”
Burton got set up in Las Vegas and his daughter and her mother finished wrapping up some business back in St. Louis. During that time The Drawing Dead had stirrings of new life. Burton, now in Las Vegas, where live poker bounced back in a hurry had access to any game he wanted. The restrictions on filming and playing were opening up and Burton, once again, thought about resuming his on-camera poker journey.
“There was a time in December , where I was watching Poker After Dark on PokerGO and a hand came up where it was a flush versus a full house. I literally had to pause the show to remember which hand beat which,” he said. “That’s how detached from the game I had become.”
“So when I finally moved to Vegas and I jumped in a live game, it just felt weird. It felt weird buying chips, it felt weird with the chips in my hand…but the act of playing and the skills necessary to play came back.”
As did the skills that have earned him thousands of fans. Roughly nine months after The Drawing Dead went on hiatus, Burton uploaded “The Return To Poker…” the video that dives into his major life changes and his return to felt. A video that picked up right where he left off. Any concerns about his fanbase moving on from his content were quickly discarded as the video has quickly become one of the most popular on his channel. Not that Burton was ever worried about that.
“I wasn’t worried about fan support or subs or any of that because, honestly, none of that has ever mattered to me. When I created my first vlog, poker vlogs weren’t really a thing,” he said. “So I created it purely for the love of creation. I liked the documenting of the journey and I was shocked as hell that anybody wanted to watch it.”
Of course, that’s no longer the case. Poker vlogs have skyrocketed in popularity among poker fans with new creators entering the space all the time. It’s become embraced by card rooms. Burton has gone from operating “undercover…like a ninja” to walking in a poker room and having people tell him how much they love his work and ask him if he’s vlogging the day’s session in hopes of making a hand that makes it on camera.
“I’ve had a couple of the floor guys at some of the casinos here [in Vegas] tell me ‘I liked your vlog, you’re one of my favorite vloggers…’ So they know what’s going on.”
But a return to vlogging isn’t the only thing that Burton is enjoying in his new Las Vegas lifestyle. His vlogs feature other vloggers and poker personalities, many of whom reside in Las Vegas. People with which he’s built honest off-camera friendships. Those friendships were “100%” a factor in him choosing Las Vegas as his landing spot, something that was initiated on The Drawing Dead but over time has become even more important away from the tables.
When referencing Andrew Neeme and Johnnie Moreno [aka Johnny Vibes] Burton lights up. “I consider them good friends…[Neeme], as a friend, not even as a vlogger counterpart, but just him as a person and his wife Busi, I consider them really good friends. Same with Johnnie and Olga.”
At the same time, they are vlogger counterparts and push each other to create and, at times, be better.
“I think we all push each other, I have questions about one thing or another, I’ll call Brad [Owen] or I’ll call Andrew,” he said. “We don’t see the competition. I think we all have healthy relationships and then we leverage those relationships for more exposure. I’ll have Brad and Andrews on my vlog, sometimes I’ll be on their vlog. Same with Johnnie. I think that level of collaboration is sorely missing in the poker sphere in general. I think there is so much inner competition between entities that should be collaborating.”
It’s been over three years since Burton started The Drawing Dead and after emerging from a difficult year, Burton is back to creating his unique comic-book-inspired takes of battling in the live poker scene, now with a buffet of games to choose from and a new, supportive community to be a part of. Whether it’s drinks with Joey Ingram or pickleball with Matt Berkey, Burton is returning to a “social element of life that was missing” for the better part of the past three years.
As the Drawing Dead is set to enjoy its next chapter, so is Burton. His daughter and her mom will be joining Burton in Las Vegas, as will his father. Plus, the poker opportunities for him in St. Louis pale in comparison to those in Las Vegas. Meet-up games, video collaborations, and…who knows, maybe some commentary are all things he’s looking to pursue.
But for now, it’s enough that Burton is enjoying a whole new experience a new “diversity of people” and a lifestyle he considers freer.
“Sure there are always decent poker games running but even outside of the poker space, there are a million other things to do and a wide variety of other types of people from various backgrounds doing them. That was important to me and [his daughter’s] mom. We want her to grow up in a community of people that came from a wide variety of places, different ethnicities, and different cultures.”