Is Poker Gambling or a Game of Skill?

Poker is one of those card games which we are exposed to on TV and Films from a very early age. From episodes of “Friends” to old Western movies.

Like Blackjack (or Pontoon) it is often played in families with children of all ages.

But as it costs money to play, and you can win money from it – is it therefore gambling?

Some see it as a game of skill rather than a game of chance. Some even describe it as a sport.

So which is it?

In this article I’ll look at:

• What is gambling compared to a game of skill?

• What does Poker have in common with Gambling?

• What makes Poker a game of skill?

• Summary

What is “gambling” compared to a “game of skill”?

Gambling is most often defined as a “game of chance”. You place a bet on a specific result and are paid out if the result comes in. Losing your bet if the result doesn’t come in.

Normally the result has a random element. Think of roulette. The odds are 36-1 on your number coming in, if you bet on individual numbers, and you have no influence on the outcome of the spin of the wheel.

Some people may argue that there are roulette “systems” that can help increase your odds of winning. However, there is no definitive proof that there is any skill involved in getting a winning spin.

Similarly there may be betting strategies for playing Blackjack. Such as when to double-down and when to hit or stand depending on the cards on show. But again if your cards are bad, you lose. And you have no control over that.

A game of skill would be one where you could use a strategy or skill to influence whether you can win or not. So if you challenge someone to a game of Pool for money you are wagering money, but generally the most skillful player will win.

So by the definition of “gambling” you aren’t really gambling here. You are putting your skill against someone else’s.

So how does Poker fit in with these definitions?

What does Poker have in common with Gambling?

So first we have to discount Video Poker from our discussion.

In Video Poker, you can make choices about which cards to hold but the result of the deal is controlled by a random number generator. There is nothing you can do to skills-wise to get a win where you aren’t dealt one.

So Video Poker is gambling by our definition.

But Face-to-Face Poker, or Online Poker against real people, also has a bet before you have seen your cards (the ante). Then the decision to continue betting based on the cards you get and the cards you can see – if you are playing Texas Hold ‘Em.

And the cards that are dealt are random so you have no control over the hand you end up with.

So surely this type of Poker is also Gambling then?

Not so fast. There are other elements at play which take skill.

What makes Poker a game of skill?

The skill in Poker comes with how you bet and the way that betting represent the hand you have, or might have, to the other players.

There are various strategies and skills that can be employed to either win more money with the best hand. Or even to win with the worst hand.

And this is what makes Poker a game of skill in my mind.

You only have to watch Poker on TV for 10 mins to see someone win the pot with what should be a losing hand. Usually by bluffing with a calculated big bet that convinces the other players that they have no chance of winning.

So despite having no control over the cards you are dealt, the way you interact with the other players can influence whether you win the pot or not.

Bluffing like this can be used to scare off players who would beat you in a show-down. Or to get players to bet more by making them think you actually have a worse hand than you do.

Clearly there is an element of luck involved – you don’t know for sure what the other players are holding – but you can use their betting patterns, probabilities and even “tells” in live poker games, to make your decisions.

So in my mind, although Poker certainly has a risk factor involved, where you can lose your money, it is also one where the player best at reading people and bluffing will win more often than not.

That’s why you see the same famous faces winning consistantly and the World is full of “professional” Poker players. People who do it for a living.

So I’d have to say that, technically, Poker is not gambling.


IT is a hot topic for debate, Especially in countries where gambling is illegal.

In the US for example, where online gambling is illegal in most States, there is a lot more tolerance for Poker.

This is helped by the fact that Poker is on TV a lot over there on Sports channels and that professional Poker players are viewed as Sports stars,

As I have said above, for me, the very fact that the player who has been dealt the worst hand at the table can still win by bluffing, separates Poker from a game of chance and makes it one of skill.

And that’s why I have no problems recommending Poker to everyone.

If you are a Poker player already you probably knew that already.

If you are new to Poker or looking to get started playing online, I can recommend PokerStars which is great for new and experienced players alike, With good bonuses to help you get started and lots of tutorials to help you get up to speed quickly.

You don’t have to lose a lot of money as you learn. Deposit £10 and get £20 more to play with.

If you do want to sign up to PokerStars please use our links as it helps support the site.

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About Alex M

Alex is our intrepid reviewer and article writer. He hopes that his reviews and articles will help readers when choosing a site to play on. He also hopes one day to grow a proper beard.

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