When Northeast Philadelphia's Amanda Musumeci was just a toddler, her first words were: "I want more money."
Her mother, Lisa London, says it's absolutely true. "Not 'Mommy' - it was 'I want more money,' " London insists.
It's fitting then, that Musumeci, now 25 and an emerging professional poker player, has hit what most seasoned card sharks consider a jackpot - a gig as a sponsored player for gambling website Bodog.com.
Since the Archbishop Ryan High School graduate was named to Team Bodog last month after a national search for the next great woman player, Musumeci - who has grossed over $500,000 playing mostly online - has sat for publicity photo shoots and given a fistful of interviews.
But the hard-cash payoff comes this summer when Bodog pays her $10,000 entry fee into the World Series of Poker Main Event that begins July 5 in Las Vegas. She also gets an allowance to pay her way into some televised events throughout the year. Beyond that, there's the incalculable financial potential of being a poker celebrity.
"It's ironic, because when I was younger and my friends had dreams of being, say, a rapper or starting a band - something that involved both luck and an extraordinary amount of talent - I would say, 'Dude, you have to grow up and be more realistic about what you can achieve,' " Musumeci said. "So now, for this to happen to me - it's a total mind-blower."
Musumeci's tiny tot utterances aside, she says that succeeding as a poker pro isn't simply about the money; it's about the challenge of making her way in a competitive and exhilarating world, despite the odds.
"People don't realize that playing poker online is exceptionally hard work," she said. "It's constant concentration for 12, 14 hours a day or more."
Not surprisingly, her mother was taken aback when Musumeci announced her poker ambitions but now London is proud of what her daughter has accomplished.
"Amanda has always sung her own tune and didn't care what other people thought," London said.
Musumeci's mercurial poker career began less than three years ago. While a student at Kutztown University, she skipped her waitressing job one day, sat down at her computer for some poker and won $1,000.
That set in motion a chain of events that had her traveling to Australia five months later for a big-time tournament, where she mostly observed. But she also struck a friendship there with successful pro, Anna Wroblewski, who helped stake her. In poker, promising players without large bankrolls are sometimes backed financially by more established pros who, in turn, receive a cut of the staked player's earnings.
After Australia, Musumeci traveled to Atlantic City and Los Angeles following the migration of the tournament poker community, and soon, she and Wroblewski were sharing a luxury condo in Las Vegas and rubbing elbows with the poker glitterati.
But Musumeci also understood that her game needed work and she needed more financial backing to move up to higher-limit games both in Bodog's virtual card rooms and in Vegas' real ones.
On a visit home, Musumeci forged another poker partnership, this time with two Philadelphia-area online players, Dan Kelly, a student at Villanova, and Mark Herm, considered among the world's elite Internet players. They helped Musumeci both with her bankroll and with tutoring in return for a split of her earnings.
"We looked at her [online] hand histories, she was definitely a winning player," Kelly said. "If anything, she was a little too tight, and not as aggressive as she needed to be."
Musumeci - who plays online as "BodogMander" and "Manderbutt" - has enjoyed her share of big paydays. Her biggest cashes have been for $26,000, $20,000 and a couple of times for $15,000 - all in Internet tournaments.
Her biggest score, though, came after answering Bodog's call for a woman player to join its relatively short list of sponsored pros. At the moment, the only other Bodog-sponsored player is pro Evelyn Ng.
The Bodog application process involved submitting a biographical essay and a mock video interview, and meeting in person with website officials. Musumeci, who had been a public relations major at Kutztown, demonstrated she had a flair for selling herself.
"I don't think it was simply that they wanted someone who looked good - because they had women who had posed for Playboy, and models," Musumeci said. "And it wasn't just about the getting the best poker player, because there were some pros who applied. They wanted someone who had more of a total package."
The World Series of Poker opens on May 27 and the 57-event tournament runs for seven weeks, and concludes with the Main Event. In addition to entering that mega-tournament in July, Musumeci also has plans for some lower buy-in events with $1,000 and $1,500 entry fees. Making some noise at the WSOP would boost her career immeasurably.
"Anyone involved in poker knows that it takes that one big pop to make it go 'Boom!' " Musumeci said. "And it sure would be fitting to keep living the dream."