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My Take on Poker and Gambling

by Daniel Negreanu |  Published: Dec 01, '14

When I started out my career as a professional poker player it required me to answer a few questions:

Am I OK with making a living that requires me to take money from people who are less skilled?

Am I OK with the fact that some of those people are making very bad decisions for themselves and possibly their family?

Am I OK with playing poker in a casino that offers games of chance to people where the house holds an edge big enough to make sure they could never be long term winners?

Am I OK with eating dinner, or seeing a show in a casino where some problem gamblers are ruining their lives?

Well, the simple fact that I chose poker as a career and have been doing so for 20 years is answer enough. I’m aware of the dangers that exist for people when it comes to gambling. Whether it’s poker where the professionals fleece the novice players, or the casinos offering “fun games” that are unbeatable.

I would personally feel like a hypocrite if I justified that it’s OK for me to take money from problem gamblers, but it's not OK for the casino to do the same. if it’s wrong it’s wrong, no matter who profits. As much as we’d like to separate poker from gambling, poker played for money IS gambling. There will be some winners, and a vast majority of losers. The stock market and sports betting are no different. Plenty of people make bad decisions in the market and on Sundays when they overextend themselves on NFL games. Poker, stocks, and sports, are all beatable games if you put in the hard work. The really hard work that most of you will not put in, but convince yourself that you have. When you lose, you may blame bad luck. You may be convinced by ads, marketing, or by watching other young pros win millions online, that this could be you. It could, but it probably won’t be. You may believe that you are a sports guru and that you can pick winners based purely on your instinctual gift to evaluate teams. Or maybe you think you are the next big wig day trader who is going to make millions in the stock market.

Examples exist in society of people we may aspire to be that have beaten the odds and made it to the top of poker, sports betting, and the stock market. I don’t know of any such delusions when it comes to casino games. The math is quite simple, the more you play the more you are going to lose. You “could” win, and you will win occasionally, but the game is obviously rigged in such a way to ensure the house always wins in the end. With casino games, there is no hope or illusion that you could become a roulette superstar. It is not a fair game, in the sense that with hard work you could beat it. That opportunity doesn’t exist in casino games. Having said that, a recreational player who puts down $100 at a blackjack table is going to win more often than he would at a poker table. His ROI is going to be better at a craps table then it would be sitting down at a poker table full of sharks. He’ll lose either way of course, the only difference is who gets his money. The casino, or the shark poker players taking advantage of the disadvantaged recreational player.

I have thought about it a great deal and I don’t see how I could rationalize being against casinos profiting from disadvantaged players, but all for taking those same types of players money for myself. If I truly felt that gambling was wrong and against my beliefs, that it should be illegal, it would require me to stop entering casinos for any reason. Not to see a show, or have dinner, and certainly not to play poker. That’s what a stand looks like to me.

I’m fortunate enough to have more money than I could spend in my lifetime. I don’t need to earn another penny the rest of my life and I’ll be OK. I’m not bound to gambling or a paycheck. Money has never been the driving force behind what I do. I do enjoy playing poker, sometimes betting on sports, certainly betting on golf, and occasionally playing craps and roulette despite knowing that I’m not going to finish ahead in that endeavor. I appreciate the fact that I have the right to do so in the city I live in. I enjoy playing poker online as well, and would love the option of also being able to bet on sports online. Playing online casino games doesn’t interest me personally, but I am pro freedom to choose.

I both respect and admire Vicky Coren’s personal stance on online casino gaming. I assume she asked herself a lot of tough questions, and in the end, drew a line in the sand that she wasn’t willing to cross. I suppose everyone has their own line in the sand and they aren’t all going to be in the same place, and that’s neither right or wrong. What matters most is that when you draw that line you also follow it up with doing what you feel is right, and Vicky deserves all the kudos in the world for doing that.

I’m aware that on my climb to where I am now it required me to step on a lot of heads. When I win, others lose. I don’t take that lightly. The question I focus my energy on now is how will I give back to the world and inspire others to live out their dreams? I’m not talking poker here, I’m talking life. Poker is what I did to accumulate my wealth, but that doesn’t preclude me from being a contributing member of society and making a difference for people, and for the world.
Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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