‘Gambling’ is a term that covers a lot of different activities, many of which are purely based on chance and require none of the skill or training required for traditional competitive sports. In spite of this apparent distinction, there are some forms of gambling which do indeed deserve to share the limelight with the likes of football, baseball and other athletic events of a similar pedigree. So what are these stand-out forms of gambling which can be considered sports, and what makes them different from their more random counterparts?
As a hugely popular pastime and a game with a competitive professional scene, poker is the perfect example of a type of gambling which has only a little to do with luck. While the outcomes of digital casino slots games like 300 shields are effectively pre-determined through programming, a poker tournament between experienced players calls upon much more than blind chance. With each hand that is dealt, poker pros need to be able to read their opponents’ hands by gauging their micro-responses to the cards they receive, while also tracking how they behave over time to assess the current state of play and know when to bet big or hold back.
It is no surprise that there is a television and streaming audience for poker, nor that in 2018 the winner of the World Series of Poker’s main event walked away with $8.8 million in prize money.
This sits on the cusp of sports-hood, because while blackjack is technically a casino table game that can be won consistently if you have the skill and mental acuity, it is not operated on a competitive basis. Blackjack exists in a grey area because of this, and it’s all down to the practice of card counting. While this is a complex process to carry out in practice, in principle it is simple enough to understand that tracking the number of cards in the deck and working out when to go all-in on a hand while being fairly certain of what’s about to be dealt offers advantages that are nothing to do with luck.
Aside from the issue of casinos not appreciating card counting techniques being used on their premises, it wouldn’t make for a very interesting sport from a spectator’s perspective. A little bit of Hollywood magic has to be used to make card counting interesting, as is the case in movies like Rain Man.
Hugely popular in China and other parts of Asia, this tile-based game is influenced partly by chance, but more directly by the skill of the players involved. The fact that it is commonly used as a form of gambling, with participants paying out to the winner in the event that they fail to triumph themselves, makes it relevant to discuss in this context.While Mahjong may superficially seem to be similar to chess, it is more closely related to card games like poker because of the number of components involved and the influence that random variables can have on the outcome of a game. It also differs in that the rules can vary depending on the region in which it is played.
The definition of the word ‘sport’ has expanded in recent years to include activities like Mahjong and poker which do not involve any physical exertion. This might vex some purists who believe that you need to build up a sweat to really be involved in a genuine sport, but given that the rise of online services has made e-sports a prominent pastime, this point of view is quickly fading into obscurity.