Is Poker Gambling?

Empire Casino, London

Poker is perpetually linked to - and surrounded by - gambling and gamblers. For this reason, it's important to take a serious look at what "gambling" itself means.

"The real thing to know is that folks will stand to lose more than they will to win. That's the most important percentage there is. I mean, if they lose, they're willin' to lose everything. If they win, they're usually satisfied to win enough to pay for dinner and a show. The best gamblers know that."

-Pug Pearson

What Is Gambling?

One of the most relevant definitions (according to dictionary.com) of gambling is:

To stake or risk money, or anything of value, on the outcome of something involving chance: to gamble on a toss of the dice.

What's missing from this, and most other definitions of gambling, is that it doesn't imply you are making this risk with the guarantee, if your gamble turns out to be correct, you will receive more money than you put up for risk in the first place.

Now that we know what gambling is, we can attempt to answer our original question.

Erick Lindgren
Eric Lindgren loves to gamble, but he keeps the gamble out of his play.

Is Poker Gambling?

The answer is both yes and no. A regular Joe Blow who goes to play poker one night is in fact gambling. Even if he plays every night for the rest of his life, unless he is playing poker correctly, he is still gambling.

Poker played either short term or incorrectly is in fact gambling.

Another definition of gambling (also from dictionary.com) is:

Any matter or thing involving risk or hazardous uncertainty.

Based on this definition, it's easy to classify poker as gambling for most every human being. That being said, if you are playing poker correctly, over the long term you can remove all gamble from your game.

The Coin Flip Example

The best analogy I've come up with to describe this idea is as follows:

If I was to make you a deal with the following stipulations:

Reno Represent!
Reno, where you can find someone to gamble on anything with you.

  • We will flip a quarter 1,000 times.
  • For every time the quarter lands on heads you pay me $1.
  • For every time the quarter lands on tails, I pay you $3.

For you, is this gambling?

The answer is the same as for poker. If we were only making a single flip, it is a gamble. You are 50-50 to win a single flip. Because you are guaranteed 1,000 flips, winning or losing that single flip is irrelevant.

You can assume you are going to win the coin toss close to 500 times, give or take. So at those returns, even if you only win the coin toss 300 times, you still make a net profit of $200.

If you are playing poker correctly, you're always putting in your money when you are given the correct odds to do so. As long as you're guaranteed to play that same hand a large enough number of times, and you always play it correctly, then you're guaranteed to make money.

If it's guaranteed, then there is no risk, therefore it is not a gamble.

As soon as you start breaking rules, and playing poor poker, you're moving into the realm of gambling.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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Racooncity 2009-05-14 15:12:00

Poker becomes gambling when you mostly reluy on luck to win, otherwise its just like any other entreprise , more or less risky depending on the nature of the buisness you undertake and the way you run it!

Squaell 2009-04-08 00:21:00

If you play freerolls you are not gambling because you have not put any money. If you make bankroll from this and you begin to play cash games and other tournaments it is still not gambling because you have not put any money , untill you loose all winings and you put your money. Then it begin to be gambling. In that moment you put your money in you begin to gamble , you can play with odds and make advantage of that but it is still gambling i lost many times with 90% hands because it is gambling. When you play tournaments it is too gambling but some sort of weak gambling because you risk just the buy-in.

Sean Lind 2008-04-02 17:40:00

Thanks for the feedback guys. And it's a very good point Bryce. You need to have a means of exploiting an edge to take away the gamble. If you were to play against a clone of yourself, both having the exact same day, it would be pure gambling.

You will be able to gain an edge and remove the gamble from specific hands, only to lose that edge on subsequent hands. On a table full of top pro's, the money is made (as I mentioned in my first article on the site) by Losing less vs winning more.

The pro who can minimize their losses better than the others at the table, will come out on top.

maz 2008-04-01 18:23:00

I think poker is a gamble for the majority of people out there. However, with that being said, the government shouldn't have a right to say we can't do it because it's gambling. It's our money. It should be our decision. The problem the government has with gambling is that they have no say in how it's done, or in other words, they aren't getting any money for it. Taxes and regulation. That's all the government is about. If they can find a way to "legally" make you pay 30-35% of winnings, while also taxing the poker sites, I can almost guarantee to you that they will be more than happy to allow "gambling" in exchange for that $20-50 Billion they make every year.

Bryce 2008-04-01 00:18:00

Nice article overall, but it fails to mention that when good players pair up against good players and each plays their hand "correctly" that it again becomes gambling.

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