There is an interesting argument that often accompanies talk of poker legislation, and that is whether or not poker is gambling. You actually might be surprised to find that I fall in the camp that calls poker gambling, considering I’ve played the game for over a decade and have never had a losing year at the poker tables. So what gives? How can I possibly say poker is gambling? Let me explain.
First and foremost, there is luck in the game; yes, in the long-run the luck will even out, but with such a high amount of short-term variance calling poker anything more than Advantage Gambling is simply wrong. But this isn’t even the main reason why I call poker gambling.
The reason I call poker gambling is actually quite simple; for the vast majority of players (I’ll put the number at somewhere between 90% and 95%) poker is a losing proposition; they will lose money in the long-run no matter how skillfully they play their cards. Now, I’m not talking about low-limit players, putting in 75-hour weeks and grinding out $25,000-$50,000 a year –since you could take a job stocking shelves at Home Depot and make the same amount of money if you put in 75-hour weeks; I’m talking about players in mid- to high-stakes games. These losses occur for three very simple reasons:
- #1: Most people simply suck at poker and won’t take the time to learn the game. Sorry to break it to you, but if you play your heart, and you suck, you’re going to lose. For unskilled players poker is the worst game in the house; you’re actually better off playing roulette.
- #2: Players rise to their level of competency. Everyone wants to be Phil Ivey, so everyone keeps climbing through the ranks until they hit a level they can’t beat. Once this happens, these players go through a vicious cycle of jumping up and down between games they can beat and games they can’t; in the end they usually go broke.
- #3: The rake and expenses will kill you. This is truer now than it has ever been in the past too. We are now in age of poker where the skill gap has shrunk to all-time lows, and it’s getting smaller and smaller all the time. No matter how skillful players become they are always at the mercy of a bell curve. If you put 10 equally skilled players at a table they will be performing the monotonous task of passing money back and forth while the house slowly eats away their collective bankrolls through the rake.
So on one hand we have terrible players who will simply lose money time after time, and for these players poker offers worse odds than any of the mindless-house-edge-games you find in a casino. Then you have a second group of players who are skilled, but not skilled enough to surpass their peers and essentially pass money back-and-forth with one another while the rake eats away their bankroll. These players also act as a middle-man of sorts, winning money from the terrible players and holding on to it until a better player comes along and relieves them of their burden.
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