Is Poker a Sport or a Gambling Game?

In 2012, A New York businessman faced ten years in prison for running an illegal poker business. But just when he thought the judge was about to validate his conviction, his case was tossed out. According to the judge, Jack Weinstein, poker is a game of skill and should never have been classified together with other illegal gambling games.

Throughout history, there have been great poker players—and people who thought they could play the game. Some people, like the unbeatable poker expert in the Cincinnati kid film, win more than others. So, is poker really a gambling game or a sport?

The Official Classification

Poker is classified as a mind sport by the International Mind Sports Association in 2011. Unsurprisingly, its official classification didn’t stop critics from identifying poker as a game of chance. There are good arguments to call poker a game of chance and they’re reasons why it fits the bill of a sport.

Why Poker is a Gambling Game

Cards are Randomly Produced

Before the start of any poker game, cards are shuffled either by RNG software or by human dealers. Players then receive 1-2 cards per round randomly. This way, anyone could have hands with higher values than other players.

Of course, it’s not always that the player with the highest hand wins, but more of this later. Still, the fact that cards are shuffled and given out randomly means everyone has an equal chance of winning or losing. This is not the same case for many sports. Teams with better squads are favored to win even before the game begins.

Luck is an Important Factor

All casino games share one thing in common: they’re won through luck. Whether you wager $1 or $1000, only luck can help you win in a slot or roulette game. Sometimes players go on winning streaks but it’s mostly luck that helps them win.

Texas HOLD’EM is somehow different from other games. While all cards are delivered face down, players can quickly determine the value of their cards. If they hold a high-value hand, they can then increase their bets to maximize potential wins.

Does not Involve Physical Exertion

Sport is defined as “any activity that involves physical exertion and skill.” The definition also states that a sport must involve an individual or a team competing against others for entertainment or other reasons. Poker falls into the second part of the definition but not the first.

So, what definition holds more weight? It depends on who you ask. Most people define sports by whether they involve physical exertion and not necessarily because they can be played against others.

Takes Place in Casinos

Another reason why people tend to define poker as a game of chance is based on the fact that it’s found in casinos. It doesn’t take much knowledge to know that casinos don’t support games of skill. They offer games of luck so that when players lose money, they can keep it as profits.

Poker fans defend this argument by noting that casinos make profits from some poker variations differently. Instead of keeping money lost by players, casinos keep a small percentage of every player’s wins during live dealer games. Casinos let winners keep most of their money in online poker sports tournaments, giving poker the same treatment as traditional sports competitions.

Reasons Supporting Poker as a Sport

Fanaticism and Fan Culture

Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 Main Event World Series of Poker winner is credited for helping poker gain a cult following worldwide. He learned about the game online, qualified for the WSOP invitation online and won the event, taking home more than $2 million.

Since then, poker has earned a fan base as huge as that of football and basketball. The only difference is that poker isn’t played at large stadiums. Poker fans also don’t wear jersey but instead own hoodies and site patches.

In true sport spirit, poker fans also get to meet and interact with their gaming heroes. Sports bookmakers are also involved in poker sports, often evaluating players and giving them appropriate odds for betting purposes.


Is poker entertaining? Is golf entertaining? Ask these two questions to sports fans and you’ll get quite some intriguing answers. In reality, whether a sport is entertaining or not depends on who you ask. Poker fans find the game interesting enough to become fanatics.

On TV, poker is a hugely popular game. In 2004, the National Hockey league experienced troubles paying players and was locked out of TV for a whole season.

Networks quickly searched for sports to replace hockey and settled on poker. The bet paid off as tournaments would attract hundreds of thousands of viewers every week.

Skill is a Factor

Poker may not involve a lot of physical exertion but requires a fair share of good skills to win. In the Cincinnati Kid film, the undefeated master uses his experience to drain his opponent’s bankroll by producing a straight flush.

The kid had a full house hand which gave him the confidence he could win but was not skilled enough to figure out the master held a better hand. It’s this kind of experience that drove Chris Moneymaker to once say, “The beautiful thing about poker is that everybody thinks they can play.”

And true, poker looks like a simple enough game to play and win. But once you go against the professionals, you may find yourself losing even when you have better hands than they do.

To Conclude

Is poker a sport or a game of chance? It depends on who you ask. The International Mind Sports association believes poker is a sport. Most sports fans believe it is a gambling game. But irrespective of the reasons people give for supporting or dismissing poker as a sport, they’re things they can’t deny about it.

First, poker involves some level of luck. It also involves skills to some degree. Based on these two factors, some people are able to beat others at the game consistently.

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