Why the Skill vs. Luck Argument Is a Red Herring for Poker

Jean-Robert-Bellande-One-Drop-2014When the subject of poker legalization is brought up poker advocates should avoid turning to the seemingly ironclad argument that poker is a game of skill. As foolish as we find the argument (of course poker is a game of skill) the opposition would like nothing better than to argue the merits of online gambling expansion on this front, and here is why.

Arguing that poker is a game of skill is a complicated discussion to engage in, especially against people who don’t gamble or don’t understand gambling. So, for the same reason poker is a beatable game (people don’t take the time to learn to play it properly) the argument that poker is a game of skill falls on deaf ears.

As I’m about to detail, whenever someone broaches this topic you should politely make your case, listen to their argument (which is likely to be absurd and fly in the face of the laws of nature) and move on to the next topic. Poker skill vs. poker luck is simply an argument you can’t hope to win; not because you are wrong, but because…

Poker is gambling

The biggest problem with the poker as a game of skill argument is that this isn’t technically what these people are opposed to. What critics of legalized poker oppose isn’t the game being played, it’s the betting aspect of it; the gambling. And make no mistake about it poker is gambling.

In order to make the case for poker as a game of skill you have to explain to someone who despises gambling the difference between fixed-odds gambling and advantage gambling; which is along the same lines as explaining to someone who keeps their money in a mattress the difference between a Roth IRA and a 401k.

If they don’t tune you out they might absorb 10% of what you’re saying.

These people aren’t interested in why you should be willing to go all-in and risk $1,000 when you have 58% equity, all they understand is “sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”

Furthermore, for most people poker offers the worst odds in the casino.

Anyone completely unfamiliar with casino games of any kind is destined to lose, and for these players the fixed odds games like Roulette or Three-Card-Poker offer them a much better chance to hang on to their money than poker.

For serious players poker is certainly a game of skill, but for your average Joe sitting down at a poker table is likely to offer worse odds than a lottery scratch ticket. For these players sitting at a poker table requires more than simple luck to walk away a winner, it requires an act of god.

Even if you’re successful in explaining advantage gambling …

Logic doesn’t always win people over

Even if we’re successful in explaining why poker is a beatable game, another, even more difficult problem presents itself. Anecdotes often win out over data, and everyone knows someone who has a problem with gambling, or has seen someone take a horrible beat on what appeared to be a sure thing.

Long-term thinking is simply not a natural human tendency. I don’t know many people in my day-to-day life who understand variance and standard deviations; most people I know look at things as individual events, and rely on their experiences and what they’ve been told to formulate their opinions.

To understand this you only have to look at the memes that hit Facebook whenever a freak snowstorm occurs, these short-term weather patterns are tangible evidence for people who don’t believe in climate change to proclaim it a hoax.

No matter what data you present explaining how global temperatures are on the rise, and how the earth is experiencing a warming trend, the skeptic’s brain tells them “it snowed in Egypt last month! This is utter hogwash!” Or, they simply pull out the one data sample that is an outlier.

And if you overwhelm them with logic there is always the old standby argument, “well, that might be so, but that’s not how I see it.”

The same thing happens when you discuss gambling with people who are simply morally opposed to it; they don’t care about your logic, “their Uncle Freddy lost $2,000 betting on the Super Bowl,” and don’t forget this timeless counterpoint… But how much did you lose?

You can basically put poker as a game of skill into the same category as evolution or climate change. What I mean by this is that even if you can prove it, this doesn’t mean you have changed someone’s mind.

Instead of debating skill vs. luck we should stick with: State’s rights, added revenue, consumer protection, and personal liberties.




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