BLOG – Is Poker Gambling?
Friday, 23 July 2010
When you spend a lot of time talking poker, reading poker, playing poker; you find certain patterns repeating – people don’t like Jamie Gold but they like Greg Raymer, Isildur1 is still a hot topic and poker isn’t gambling. Or is it? Or isn’t it? Or is- sorry, I’ll stop.
Often you hear a player talking about their parents’ reaction to their offspring’s occupation as a 12-tabling mid-stakes grinder – he will justify it “but it’s poker, it’s a skill game, it’s not gambling!” Usually, some smart arse – sometimes me – points out that you wager money, it’s gambling. If you bet on a game of chess you would be gambling even if your opponent was a terrible player and you were certain to win.
You make the point that in poker, you are guaranteed to win over the long term and thus it isn’t gambling – well, what about roulette? You are guaranteed to lose over the long term, so that’s not gambling either, surely? That’s just pissing money away.
It occurred to me recently, though, that in order to ask if poker is truly gambling or not we need to decide what gambling actually is. Firstly you have the pseudo-deep definition; then the dictionary definition; then kind of a definition that fits. Pseudo-deep, first, then:
Life is gambling. Every single thing you do, even reading this article, is a gamble. The computer (or iPhone, if you’re really cool) you’re reading this on could malfunction and shoot bolts of electricity down your urethra. It’s probably happened in China, somewhere. However, you decide the risk – infinitesimal – is worth the reward of reading my stunning prose.
A less contrived example of this is that I used to ride a motorcycle to University (on the rare occasions I attended) which is a more obvious risk. I, however, decided that the risk of death or injury was worth the ability to cut a 3-hour train journey down to a 45-minute drive. It wasn’t – Uni was consistently boring and awful and useless and motorcycles really hurt when you come off.
The dictionary definition of gambling is pretty much any sport, game, activity, you name it, upon which money is wagered. This covers slot machines, roulette, sports betting, poker and even “hey, I bet you a tenner you can’t pull that bird”. That’s gambling; as it says in the dictionary (probably without the bit about pulling that bird) and the definition most people accept.
The third is the one that many feel applies – any game where money is wagered AND where luck is more important than skill over the outcome, is gambling. This is actually how it’s often written in law, it’s up to the government to decide what is predominantly skill and what is predominantly luck. They don’t get it right often, which leads to outrage in the US and tax-free poker over here.
That was going to be my last line, but I realised I hadn’t truly answered the question. Poker is certainly gambling, as it fits into all three of those definitions, even the third – on any given hand or even any given session of poker, luck is far more important in deciding the outcome. You have to play a couple of dozen thousand more hands to determine your skill.
However, this might just be a case of where the English language needs a new word. Something that, perhaps roughly translated from Cherokee, means: “gambling-in-the-sense-of-risking-money-but-being-confident-of-a-profit-if-not-now-then-at-least-over-the-long-term”. The word is “schmoozibalhocking”. That’s what poker is.