Number Fifty-One

Tealiberasophoterianistic Perspectives

Poker as a Moral Good: Defending an American Tradition

with 17 comments

 By Alex Couch


Don’t mess with poker or congressmen from Texas.

I am in favor of protecting and expanding poker. I defend poker. Poker is an American pastime and one small but important part of its historical DNA. In some form or another, it has been played in America since America came into existence in the late 18th century. Like the history of this great nation, poker has had a wild history full of destruction, fellowship, misery, enjoyment, leisure, and camaraderie. It has been full of good times and bad times. And like America, poker has matured and been civilized. But the pastime of poker is under attack in America today. In the past months, tens of thousands of regular Americans just like you and me have had their money they used for poker taken away by the actions of the US government. My task here will be multiple:

1)     To defend the activity of poker

2)     To defend gambling in moderation

3)     To defend professional gambling (particularly poker) in extremely limited cases

4)     Describe the needed changes, as I see it


The first thing I need to do is establish the difference between poker and gambling. Poker is often associated with the act of gambling even though in many or most instances today poker is played without anything being wagered. In other words, very often people do not gamble at all when they play poker.


So therefore, I categorize poker with all other recreational activities including sports, games, and pastimes. Furthermore, I believe that most if not all recreational activities can be used for gambling. It is possible to gamble on a basketball game, on a game of monopoly, and anything that is not certain. At some level, these activities are regularly used to gamble. At every job I have had there has been some organized gambling on professional sports events, usually football and basketball.  


My point is that we need to not unnecessarily confuse the amoral activity of poker with gambling.  For those who are obsessed with being anti-gambling, just remember this: “Poker good, gambling bad.”  For those who have seen the movie “Tombstone,” there is a scene that illustrates this point quite well.  Wyatt Earp, in response to something Doc Holliday has said, replies, “I thought you said gambling was an honest man’s trade?” Doc Holliday responds, “No, I said poker was an honest man’s trade.”  Poker can really provide great satisfaction and help people to grow. I have been able to work on and improve a great many of my strengths and overcome many of my weaknesses.  I will hopefully talk about this point more in a future post but for now, if you haven’t played poker, please give poker a serious chance.


My next order of business is to defend gambling. I will not defend mindless and unwise gambling but if all the conditions are right, then gambling can be quite worth-while and enjoyable. If a small percentage of one’s earnings, depending on their commitments and financial situation, goes toward wagering, then I do not see a problem with the idea of gambling. A small wager at work based on performance with a fellow employee can be great for work ethic and be an overall positive act. A small wager on your favorite sports team with a friend can be healthy for a relationship when practiced in moderation. A group of guys who sit around and fellowship while playing poker on a Friday night is a great way to relax and enjoy friendship. A small wager to defend the honor of your favorite role model whom you know never said what he is being accused of saying is principled and proper.


I believe we should look at each case and make an analysis. I know people who probably take this freedom they feel to gamble too far, even if they practice moderation. If I witness this in someone I love as a pattern in their life over time, then I will address it.  If I see someone who is not practicing moderation then I will address that immediately. Clearly, it is not wise for a father who is living paycheck to paycheck and is in debt to waste 10% of his earnings on gambling.


How about professional gambling? Can that be moral? I believe it depends on the situation and the individual. If someone has an aptitude towards something and develops a skill over time then I believe it is possible that they can use wagering as a way to earn a living doing that. An example of this could be poker. Yes, poker. I am about mix the two and muddy the water.  Poker has a large element of skill that is associated with it.  The best professional poker players win consistently. Other examples can include pro-am golfers, bowlers, and basketball players. Has anyone ever seen the move “White Men Can’t Jump”? I can get behind doing something for money if it’s what you are skilled at. I would think it would be nearly impossible for someone to justify making their living gambling on slots, dice, or even blackjack where luck is more important than skill.

There are other qualifications that I suggest need to be established before some can make the decision to go pro. The first is having a sufficient bankroll. Most if not all professional poker players have a bankroll that determines what level they play at. Overtime, players add to their bankroll and increase the level they can play at. Players only gamble each time with a very small percentage of their bankroll and if their funds reach a certain low point, the player is forced to lower the level in which they play.


A further qualification I would like to add for professional players is that they should play in professional circles with other professionals at or close to their level. They should not continue to play with other amateurs or recreational players. This is usually the norm because it makes sense from both an ethical and a practical point of view.  In summary, the qualifications to play something professionally with wagering include aptitude, skill, experience, proper funding, and a strong sense of and commitment to ethics.


What needs to happen next? We need open the competition for poker rooms across the US and legalize online poker.  A few months ago, federal agents closed down many of the big poker sites and those who had money on some of those sites lost all of it. However, they have not, nor can they, shut down online poker. It is simply unregulated, untaxed, and illegal. We need to regulate it and tax it.


Apparently there is a bill currently being drafted by a republican out of Texas that would legalize internet poker. His name is Rep. Joe Barton. We should write him and let him know we are supporting him. Furthermore, we should call our representative and let them know we support online poker and poker in general. Please protect an American pastime.


Written by Jake Phillips

June 23, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

17 Responses

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  1. Well said

    Jake Phillips

    June 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm

  2. Marvelous Alex. Very well said.


    June 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm

  3. I don’t agree that poker should be regulated and taxed. I already paid taxes on my money once when I earned it. Why should I be forced to pay taxes again to play a game with my money? I know this is the way it would happen, but to quote Tombstone again, “Wearing that badge don’t make you right.”

    As for the regulation, the government has no business getting involved in online poker. It should be no concern of theirs what I do with my money. Ms. Phillips agrees with me there, right?


    June 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    • Many if not most poker players want the government to get involved. The industry wants the government to get involved. Until we have major tax reform we should be taxing revenue earned by the poker sites. The government already taxes gambling. I just want the security and freedom that the government can bring to this situation. I am also fine with states doing the regulation.

      Alex Couch

      June 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      • I could get behind it as an individual state issue.


        June 23, 2011 at 8:36 pm

  4. Alex,

    First of all…very well written. I loved the article as a whole, and my disagreements are mostly minor.

    One thing I think was a weak aspect of the article was the distinction between poker and gambling. I think the point about poker just being a game that can either be gambling or not is obviously true, but completely irrelevant since:

    1. You defend the gambling version of poker anyway
    2. Doc Holliday’s distinction wasn’t that poker isn’t gambling (because when he played, he was always gambling and would have thought poker without stakes would be incredibly boring. Yes, I know what Doc Holliday thought). He was simply saying that in poker the house isn’t taking advantage of unfair odds. Here is the whole line. “I said poker’s an honest trade. Only sucker’s buck the tiger’s odds all on the house.”
    3. When was the last time you played poker without stakes?
    4. On the other hand, I have played basketball my whole life and have never bet on a single game I played in.

    All this to say, yes poker can be distinct from gambling. But pointing that out is irrelevant, except that you are trying to keep poker from being tossed out with other, more harmful types of gambling. This would be fine, except you aren’t defending poker that isn’t gambling! The game you love and think is great is the game that involves gambling. You and your friends wager every time you play. Would you really be satisfied with convincing everyone that poker (played with valueless chips) is good, and gambling is bad? No, as you go on, it becomes clear you would not…so this first point is simply clever manipulation on your part 🙂

    So what about your second and third points…defending gambling (including poker) in moderation? I completely agree with you and thought you stated your case well. I agree that gambling in moderation can be fine, but that once it reaches a certain point it begins to violate Christian principles. I would add that moderation isn’t the only consideration however. But I talked about that in my post so I won’t rehash it here.

    Politically I am in complete agreement with you last couple of paragraphs.


    June 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm

  5. Alex, I agree with much of what you said, but I have some concerns rooted in what I believe the Bible has to say about the issue. Playing a game of poker around friends with no cash involved is fine. But when money gets involved I believe that you begin to violate a biblical principal about gaining wealth.

    Proverbs 28:20: “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”

    Proverbs 13:11: “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”

    I know the question will be: “But Jesse, you play fantasy football. How is that different?”

    I think the question is this: “Can I say I am gaining wealth through wager (dishonest means) versus and honest days work (gathering little by little)?”

    If someone plays poker regularly and over the course of the year nets $5,000, that could represent as much as a 10-15% increase in their salary. Personally, I’d have a problem with my conscience knowing that I had gained a 10% increase on wager (dishonest).

    Okay, but what about $500? At what point would I be comfortable with it? I think that’s up for each person’s situation and conscience, but that’s where I differ from Alex. I don’t think it’s a virtue. I think it’s a slippery slope into dishonest gain and potentially violates the biblical principal of how wealth should be created and how the money that’s gained is used.

    Certainly it can be done in moderation, but I think as Christian I have to at least grapple with the question of whether any wealth created is legitimate.

    Jesse P.

    June 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    • So following your reasoning, my family winning money on Family Feud violated a biblical principal?


      June 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      • Maybe I am missing something…but I am pretty sure Jesse is talking about gambling. Not sure how Family Feud relates to gambling. Did they risk losing money?


        June 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm

  6. Once again I love the debate. But just as, at times, I look outside of scripture to justify my preferences or desires I wonder if maybe this is happening here? For example, if I don’t spank my children because of various preference reasons (i.e I simply don’t like the thought or action of spanking, prefer to use other forms of discipline because I think they are better, don’t think spanking is effective) but functionally ignore biblical teaching on this topic am I elevating my own preferences or “likes” over what God says?

    If I like spending money, and buy things for my home that are not sinful but are attractive and enjoyable, but I don’t first take a look at the Bible and base my spending on biblical teaching then I will likely spend beyond my means and possibly go into debt to get what I want. My wants, enjoyment of nice things, justifying that I’m using these nice things to bless and serve others, and simple love of shopping can find me justifying these wants/desires at the risk of wanting something enough to sin to get it.

    I know every analogy breaks down, but I am in a season of asking myself the hard question of: Is my search of the timeless, unchanging truths of scripture what guides my life rather than my desires, preferences, likes? Do I find my joy in searching out and obeying God, even and especially when there is conflict in what I want and what God says?

    This has been good for me to think about…and write. Thanks for the opportunity.


    June 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    • If not spanking your disobedient children is a violation of biblical principles, then why not also consider it a violation to refrain from stoning disrespectful children, and women who are not virgins on their wedding night? Your “preference” might be to not murder your children, in a barbaric communal ceremony, but the Bible is very clear about what to do in these situations.


      June 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm

  7. James,

    The scriptures you are referring to are clearly not prescriptive for us today since:

    1. We are not national Israel
    2. Under the Old Covenant

    Proverbs on the other hand, is wisdom for anyone who will hear it. This is basic hermeneutics, been established and understood for a long time. If you reject the Bible because it presents a God you have a problem with, then ok…but just say that you think the Bible is wrong. Don’t try and claim that it is inconsistent for a believer to apply the Scripture that is meant to be instruction, and not apply the portions that were for a specific people at a specific time. (And again, you may think we are arbitrary in what we think is for today and what is not…but of all the disagreements Christians have had with each other over the course of the past couple thousand years, there has never been a major disagreement on whether Christians should follow the instruction of the Proverbs, and not follow the specific ceremonial and national laws of Israel. This isn’t an unclear issue.)


    June 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    • Although James doesn’t cut the hair at the sides of his head or clip off the edges of his beard, so he’s good there.


      June 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  8. Boom! Jason… see? Even a broken clock is right twice a day! 🙂


    June 29, 2011 at 8:34 pm

  9. Being that I’m a professional poker player by trade, I certainly take exception to my living being classified as dishonest. Whilst, there is an element of chance to the game, the most skilled players who put the most time, energy and thought into the game are the winners in the long run.

    In terms of earning money, poker most closely resembles investing in the stock market. It’s making an assessment of various situations with incomplete but significant information at hand.

    A poker player’s bankroll is earned gradually and through hard work and continued diligence to improving their game. Not overnight and certainly not based on the flip of a coin.


    July 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    • John,

      Do you agree, though, that there’s a level of dishonesty required in a professional poker player’s abilities? Obviously you know that I’m not saying this to be contentious, I’m just curious as to what your opinion is.

      Jake Phillips

      July 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm

      • That’s a very good question and definitely something I’ve thought about. There are absolutely deceptive tactics that can lead to a poker player’s success but a player can also succeed without employing them.

        I don’t think bluffing itself is dishonest. It’s more of an assessment of your opponent and the strength of their hand. However, things like lying about what your cards were and saying stuff like “i had you beat” after a successful bluff, certainly cross the line a bit.

        I’d say there is deception involved, more so than dishonesty. How different those two terms are is up to the individual’s opinion.

        Going back to the sports analogy, there’s a ton of deception in football/baseball/basketball but I wouldn’t clarify those games as dishonest. (on the field at least, haha)


        July 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm

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