On the Rise and Rise of Poker

Saturday, 15th August 2009 at 8:00 UTC 4 comments

A few nights ago I found myself watching a poker tournament on TV. This didn’t make a huge lot of sense to me. but it was an interesting thing to be able to reflect upon. I don’t know about you but Poker is something that seems to be undergoing a big renaissance right now, and has been since before the recession.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that gambling is inherently a problem. There seems to be quite developed line that gambling provides “something for nothing” and that this is somehow wrong. As someone who believes we should always be kind and give joyfully, I don’t have this problem, and in fact, I find it rather worrying. After all, I suspect when the disciples pulled a silver coin from the mouth of a fish, they felt a bit like they’d been blessed with a win!

But the harm that gambling does is quite ridiculous – it doesn’t seem possible to have gambling without someone getting sucked into a vicious cycle of determination to do what is arithmetically and deliberately very nearly impossible: earn vast fortunes.

I’m not necessarily against the National Lottery, because that at least has a logical end point: you pay £1 a week. Yes, some people pay in much more, but my understanding is that most of those still attempting it just put in the £1. With poker now readily available in pubs and, perhaps worst of all, online, its much easier for people to spend, and lose, huge amounts.

But the whole thing seems to have suddenly taken off. Poker-fever has gripped the nation and invites to play “Texas Hold’em” (whatever that means) are as likely to emanate from Facebook Apps as they are from Facebook Events, banner ads and pub posters. Its starting to worry me a little, as I begin to wonder whether the bubble will burst, and lots of people find themselves getting into serious trouble, more desperate and more convinced of the need to keep playing, not realising how much addiction and the attached problems have caught up with them.

This doesn’t mean to say that I find myself wanting to ban poker outright, but I think there’s something quite worrying going on, and it would be a good idea to keep an eye open for the first signs people are beginning to crack. As I said, I dislike the kind of “Gambling as a Mechanic is Evil” kind of outlook, as it kind of gets all tied up in a very calvinist/protestant-workerist kind of logic, which doesn’t do us many favours. But when people are able to sit and watch people “earning” thousands of pounds on TV through playing this game, one has to wonder where it will all stop.


Entry filed under: Culture, Economics, Ethics, Gambling, Leisure, Poverty.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. poster  |  Sunday, 16th August 2009 at 17:55 UTC

    we already have who wants to be a milionaire, I think poker is an outgrowth of a comsumer get rich quick society. its not the problem, its a symptom.

  • 2. Matthew  |  Sunday, 16th August 2009 at 17:56 UTC

    It’s an interesting question, and given the increase in the popularity of poker over the last few years I think you’re definitely right to say that it is something that needs to be kept an eye on.

    There are a lot of questions still to be asked. Is the growth of poker coming at the expense of other forms of gambling (eg. gambling on dogs, horses and football)? Or is it a “gateway drug” to further betting?

    An important thing to note is that poker is not like many other forms of gambling, as it is both highly dependent on skill and a social game. When playing poker it isn’t you versus the casino, it is you versus another player. With online poker the house only actually takes a very small commission on the bets placed – it is the high volume of betting (taking a small cut from thousands of people) which generates their profit.

    This all distances it, in my view, from the something-for-nothing aspect of other forms of gambling. The national lottery sells the dream vast riches for absolutely no effort – just sheer chance. The attraction of poker on the other hand, is as much about the social and sporting element – knowing you’re up against another player with the same motivations as you.

    Most important of all though is the crucial question – is all this poker fever leading to an increase in problem gambling|? Are people becoming addicted, or is it merely good entertainment – no worse than grandma’s weekly bingo? The answer: I don’t know. I expect there’s groups out there who have done research and have figures to support their conclusion, but without doing my research I can’t claim to know.

    One final thing – while I agree it’s best to avoid a simplistic “Gambling as a Mechanic is Evil” view, I think you fall for a similar “Online Gambling as a Mechanic is Evil” view, without really backing it up. Is online gambling in principle any worse than gambling face-to-face? There are certainly dangers; in theory you could gamble non-stop. But there are also safeguards – online casinos have systems which can automatically detect and block people who gamble too much. And they may have less of a financial incentive to encourage problem gambling than a small betting shop might – after all, their profit relies on small commissions from thousands of players rather than a small pool of repeat customers of a betting shop.

    • 3. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 16th August 2009 at 19:15 UTC

      These are definitely good points, but I worry about the regulation coming from the online casinos, and wouldn’t trust them to keep those regulations in place when times get hard. But otherwise, no, online isn’t always bad, and though the lack of human interaction is potentially problematic in other ways, even those problems aren’t guaranteed.

  • 4. Simon Wragg  |  Thursday, 10th September 2009 at 0:18 UTC

    I really like that song “Poker Face” by Lady GaGa that got to number 1. But I don’t know if it’ about this.


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