Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On the Poker Haters

On the Poker HatersWas thinking a bit about why so many folks find poker such an objectionable activity. Probably because I heard the fellows over on PokerRoad Radio talking about the issue over the weekend (on the 3/1 episode).

In a brief “Poker News” segment they mentioned how Barney Frank had managed to secure a 46th co-sponsor to sign on to his Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2046). I’d heard that last week. Incidentally, I’m not sure why Julia Carson’s name continues to appear on the list of co-sponsors (She died in December.) I suppose the deceased still count as co-sponsors (?).

Anyhow, co-hosts Joe Sebok, Gavin Smith, and Ali Nejad mentioned that bit of news, then goofed around a little while, trying unsuccessfully to determine just how many individuals actually comprise the House of Representatives. Such information would be helpful when trying to determine whether 47 supporters of the IGREA (including Frank) signified a meaningful number. (Answer below.)

Then they briefly lamented the UIGEA, the general prejudice against gambling, and the particular demonization of poker. Sebok pointed out how a segment of society believes “gambling -- it’s evil, it’s wrong.” Gavin Smith brought up the old bingo argument, asking why bingo is okay when poker is not. “Because it’s socially acceptable,” answered Sebok.

What makes poker socially unacceptable for so many? There are probably other explanations, but off the top of my head I came up with three different reasons why. Incidentally, all three arguments assume poker is gambling (a view with which I don’t happen to disagree), although all three also minimize or altogether fail to acknowledge poker’s skill component (a view with which I take issue).

The first objection comes from those who believe playing poker indicates the possibility of some kind of psychological disorder -- a symptom, perhaps, of a serious malady in need of correction. Those who make this objection tend not to distinguish between poker and other forms of gambling. I’ve written about this idea before in a post where I talked about mentioning to a co-worker that I played poker and his response was to ask if I thought I could develop a gambling problem. In the documentary No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail, Mike Sexton says he believes “gambling is inherent in our blood.” Those who believe the person who gambles is exhibiting a psychological disorder may in fact agree with Sexton; the difference, though, is that while Sexton accepts this condition as a part of who we are, those others believe it a flaw that needs to be rectified.

The second objection is the moral one -- that poker playing is an example of an activity that fails to conform to societal codes of conduct. This objection also frequently is made with regard to other forms of gambling, although as Sebok suggests, one is more likely to see it directed toward poker than toward bingo or the lottery. There are various factors potentially in play here (including faith/religion), but it is the law -- the most patent influence on our notions of “codes of conduct” -- that has the most relevance in this context. Whereas poker is legal in certain places and under certain conditions, other forms of gambling enjoy a great deal more legal sanctioning, thereby causing them to be viewed as conforming to society’s mores -- to be morally unobjectionable.

The third objection is the ethical one, and I think this is the one that more often applies to poker than to other forms of gambling. With ethics we start talking more particularly about “good” and “bad” conduct. There are some who view all forms of gambling as “bad” because of the potential for it to cause harm to those who gamble and to others. Then there are those who especially object to poker because of how the game is played. To succeed, we must take money from other poker players; thus is our welfare dependent on others’ suffering (in a sense). Unlike the lottery or other games where we all play against the house (a faceless, unsympathetic foe), poker pits us against one another, encouraging what some believe to be “bad” forms of treating one another. An irony: that which we poker players might say makes poker more of a skill game than other forms of gambling -- the fact that we are competing against others, and not solely subjecting ourselves to chance -- is precisely that which some say makes poker ethically dubious.

By the way, there are 435 members of the House, meaning at the moment Frank still needs another 171 of the remaining 388 Congressmen and women to come along to have a majority. A long, long way to go . . . .

And, to be realistic, I gotta believe most of those remaining 388 are gonna be held back from supporting the IGREA by one or more of these objections. Don’t you?

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Blogger Rakewell said...

I would say that if Frank has 45 sponsors now (counting only the living), he needs 245 more to get 290, the 2/3 majority needed to override a likely presidential veto. Oh, and the little matter of an equivalent fraction of the Senate, too. I'm not holding my breath.

3/04/2008 4:38 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Good point there, Rakewell -- I wonder if Frank would even bother if he didn't get to 2/3 . . . . (All theoretical pondering, anyway.)

3/04/2008 5:08 PM  
Anonymous Jesse said...

I think the most vocal anti-poker voices are religious--and they believe that gambling is a sin.

I tackled some points drawn in a daily devotional recently--can read here: Poker and God

3/05/2008 12:14 AM  
Blogger seymour cards said...

regarding point one, that if you play poker you may develop a gambling problem because poker is a form of gambling.

Would you not agree that all of americas so called banking power houses gamble daily on stocks, shares and...the sub prime mortgage sector! a gamble that hasn't paid off.

just like poker, trading is a game of incomplete information, there is skill and luck involved. if you label one bad then what is the case for the other? ...

3/05/2008 4:21 AM  
Anonymous playdog said...

pokerroad radio is so boring, how can you listen to it?

3/05/2008 5:47 AM  

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