Many people enjoy playing poker as a form of entertainment, competition, or skill development. The game is popular in a number of countries around the world, particularly in the US, which possesses 26% of the global poker market. This is followed by Germany with around nine percent, alongside Russia and France with around seven percent each.
But should this activity be considered a sport or just a popular casino game?
When we think of sports, we usually picture athletes carrying out some type of physical activity. We may think of them running, throwing an object such as a ball, frisbee, or javelin or even engaging in a type of combat such as boxing, karate, or judo. Some may scoff or raise a brow over the assertion that a game that takes place seated around a table, or on a computer, could be called a sport.
However, what does the official definition of the word ‘sport’ actually tell us? In the Oxford English Dictionary, it is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill” that is “regulated by set rules or customs in which an individual or team competes against another or others.”
Let’s consider how closely the game of poker fits into this definition of ‘sport’ and how it differentiates itself from these casino games…
Poker is a game of strategy and skill
One reason that poker could be considered a sport is that in order to succeed, players must develop certain skills. They must have a good understanding of the rules and be able to read the other players around the table.
The fact that poker requires skill can be proven through the player’s improvement in performance over time. For example, players in the top ten percent for best performance, were twice as likely to do well in poker in six months time. Skill development is even more pronounced in the top one percent of players. In this category, they were twelve times more likely to have improved their poker performance.
The best players are those who develop a well thought out strategy. Their strategy must consider which poker variant they are playing, playing style, which hands are best, and importantly – deciding when to raise and when to fold. While soccer players may have their strategy on the pitch for controlling the ball and scoring goals, poker players have their strategy for playing hands.
Poker’s skill requirement makes it different from other casino games. Games such as roulette and slots have no specific skill requirements, while games like Craps rely almost completely on chance. However, with Craps, there is some minor decision making involved and therefore skill cannot be ruled out completely. Unlike poker, these games can in no way be considered sports.
Poker is a form of entertainment
Another reason it could be considered a sport is because sports are entertaining… just like poker! Both watching and playing poker is a thrilling experience. Even those who don’t participate in the game are happy to watch it on television or at live events.
If you want to play a sport like golf you will visit a golf course to play a round, you might even have a membership to a golf club. If you want to play poker, you may visit a casino either online or at a land based venue. Seasoned poker players may have a membership at a local casino and all online players have memberships with their favourite online game operators.
Other types of gambling, such as bingo, are highly entertaining and also attract memberships. Nevertheless, bingo isn’t considered a sport because it is missing other factors that poker has, such as the requisite for skill.
Proof that poker is a great source of entertainment is evident in casino hotspot locations like Las Vegas, affectionately known as Sin City. Vegas currently has at least 100 casino venues in operation, with poker being the main attraction at many of these. The world famous Bellagio casino is home to one of the classiest poker rooms in all of Vegas, while Mandalay Bay has over 120 tables and 2,500 video poker and slot machines.
The game is also featured in many popular movies, including Casino Royale, The Cincinnati Kid and Rounders.
Poker’s ability to keep players and spectators on the edge of their seat, create tension and bring together crowds of people suggests that it has the entertainment factor needed for it to be classified as a sport.
Poker can be extremely competitive
Lastly, it is the extremely competitive nature of the game that helps to place poker in the category of a sport. Whole tournaments take place in order for players to compete with others, test their skill and hopefully take home some winnings.
While in basketball there is the NBAs and in tennis there is the US Opens, in poker there is the World Series of Poker (WSoP for short).
WSoP is a series of tournaments held annually in Las Vegas. As with all large sporting events, it attracts huge numbers of spectators and only the best-of-the-best get the opportunity to show off their skill. The televised series is sponsored by large corporations, such as Caesars Entertainment and sees the best players taking home seven figure sums.
Some poker players are even able to achieve celebrity status. They are known not only for their huge winning but sometimes even for the vendettas and grudges that they hold against other poker masters that share the spotlight. Sports have the ability to bring out people’s competitive streak, and poker is definitely no exception to this.