Is poker gambling?  

This age-old question has confused players and even governments.

  1. On the one hand, there is clearly betting that takes place around a card game - and that game is heavily influenced by chance.
  2. On the other hand, some professional poker players consistently win over millions of hands. By poker definitions, that doesn’t sound like gambling.

So, is poker a game of skill, or is it gambling?

Let’s find out.

Why So Much Confusion?

Some confusion arises because poker is a game of chance and skill.

Luck primarily determines the outcome of any poker hand. However, skill determines the outcome of a large sample size of poker hands.

Whether or not poker should be considered gambling has a lot to do with our point of reference.

Professional poker players have their perspective on the term ‘gambling’, which differs from the dictionary definition.

Is it Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’? - So Much Confusion
Is Poker Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’? - So Much Confusion

The Classic Definition of Gambling

Here is a dictionary definition of the term ‘gambling’ -

“The activity of betting money, for example, in a game or on a horse race”.

Poker involves betting money on a game. According to this relatively narrow dictionary definition, poker will always be gambling.

This answer isn’t what poker players look for when they ask, ' Is poker gambling?’.

What they are really asking is -

  1. Is it possible to consistently make money at poker?
  2. Are the big winners in the game simply luckier than everyone else?

Investing vs Gambling – A Poker Player’s Definition

The dictionary definition of gambling fails to differentiate between games that one can beat in the long run (like a poker board game) and games that one can never beat (like roulette or slots).

Is Poker Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’? - Investing or Gambling?
Is Poker Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’? - Investing or Gambling?

When professional poker players sit down at a poker table, they're not hoping to get lucky. Instead, they are there to play a system that generates profits in the long run.

The term investing is more applicable to this type of activity.

Let’s recap our two terms from a poker player’s perspective:

  1. Gambling – Playing a non-profitable game of chance, hoping to get lucky in the short term.
  2. Investing – Playing a profitable game of chance, hoping to make money in the long run due to our skill edge.

But Could Poker Still Be Gambling?

Just because poker is a game that can be beaten doesn’t mean that all activity at the tables is investing rather than gambling.

Most activity in poker is still gambling.

Is Poker Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’?
Is Poker Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’? 

For an activity to be investing as opposed to gambling, it needs to meet the following two criteria:

1). The game must reasonably be beatable with our current skill edge.

If we expect to lose in a particular environment, the activity can no longer be investing. We will not make a profit over the long run.

2). No single wager can pass a pre-defined acceptable risk threshold.

In poker terms, this measure means following bankroll management. Say the best poker player in the world decides to commit their entire bankroll to a single hand of strip poker. This play is still gambling, even if that player has an above-average chance of winning.

The player risks losing everything before reaching the ‘long run’ (i.e., playing a large sample size of hands).

Poker can be an investment rather than gambling if the above two rules are followed.

To a professional poker player, playing roulette (or other casino game) is clearly ‘gambling’, while playing poker is not.

Gambling on the Stock Market

A professional player’s more nuanced usage of the term ‘gambling’ can analyse areas of life outside poker.

Is Poker Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’? -  Stock Market
Is Poker Skill-Based or Purely ‘Gambling’? -  Stock Market

For example, imagine we learn of a stock trader who made millions on the stock market. The general public would view them as' investors’.

Now, let’s imagine we analyse the trading strategy and the profits came from large, likely non-profitable trades but got lucky in the short term.

The general public would still use the term ‘investor’ to describe such a trader.

A professional poker player who understands the term 'gambler' would find it more applicable. You could liken the activities of such a trader to someone using a poker cheat sheet.

Conclusion – Is Poker Gambling?

According to the dictionary definition, yes, poker is gambling.

However, poker is a skill game that is beatable over the long run. Therefore, it’s more accurate to use the term investing to describe the activities of a professional poker player.

Professional poker players, like the 888poker ambassadors, will likely tell us that poker is not gambling, but other games of chance (like casino games) are.

Poker players will also point out that many activities, such as investing, are a form of gambling.

However, most poker players engage in risky behaviour and follow losing strategies. So, gambling is still the most accurate to describe this sort of activity. 

So, is poker gambling? It depends!

With over 10 million registered members worldwide, 888poker is the fastest growing online poker room, with a new player signing up every 12 seconds. 888 has been a forerunner in the online gaming industry and a pioneer of safe and responsible gaming since 1997. We are one of the biggest and most trusted brands in the world, providing one of the largest selections of games, high value tournaments and exciting live events for poker players around the globe.