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 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 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.

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