The Poker Debate: Sport Or Entertainment?

Since the 19th Century, poker has provided endless hours of fun, drama and tension for the millions of people around the world who have taken to the game in a recreational or professional form. Poker games are regularly held at households and public buildings where groups of friends, or local residents, can come together and participate in a fast-paced card game that requires considerable mental strength. Casinos have long remained the driving force behind poker as a game that can be played for money, with the emergence of Internet technology revolutionizing its future.

The creation of online poker sites not only generated a new wave of players who could enjoy the game in a more convenient and efficient manner than traveling to their local casino, but also promoted poker on a worldwide scale – culminating in ever-increasing volumes of sponsorship and television deals. The latter remains fundamental in the establishment of televised poker tournaments, where the winners can take home millions for their efforts. Even more importantly, the ability to watch live events encourages new players to try their hand and attempt to follow in the footsteps of professional stars.

A discussion has emanated within the world of poker as to whether it should be considered as a sport or form of entertainment. The emergence of a Global Poker Index (GPI) has been analyzed on the PokerStrategy site as an indication that the game is moving towards being ranked as a sport. This movement is heavily debated by recreational players who want poker to remain a fun and social game, rather than a mainstream sport predominately focused on professional players.

The sport angle

Debating how poker should be classified is ultimately determined by your own definition of a “sport.” Dictionaries can provide a comprehensive answer to what sport is, but being defined as a “diversion usually involving” offers a potential loophole for poker to be listed alongside football, rugby and tennis, among others. Skeptics believe that poker does not involve any form of exceptional physical achievements, so therefore cannot be considered a sport. The lack of movement-based action can become boring and unappealing. Their argument, however, can be counteracted with the point that participation also involves considerable mental acuity, as professional athletes must be focused at all times to make a difference.

Playing poker requires an abundance of mental strength. Not only to keep calm, composed and collected throughout every hand, but also to look for potential tells and assess the play of other players. It is a real psychological challenge that applies to recreational and professional poker games. The vast number of decisions made by every poker player during a televised tournament can make the viewing public instantly appreciative of the skill level required for success. Many people watch sports to see who wins in a battle of skill, ability and performance – poker has all three qualities in abundance, therefore illustrating why it can be considered as much.

Another factor tying in the sports angle is that poker has become a global phenomenon through lucrative sponsorship and television deals, which continue to create high-profile tournaments in the most luxurious casinos worldwide. Poker is globally advertised like a sport, and receives major coverage across world-renowned broadcast and print media companies that help to broadcast poker tournaments across every continent. The emergence of GPI further illustrates efforts made within the poker industry to promote the world’s best players, and help them secure sponsorship deals for their extensive talents and skill levels.

The entertainment angle

Although there is a growing belief that the poker industry is transforming into a sport, numerous skeptics are quick to point out immediate downsides that indicate the game will always remain a form of entertainment. While poker involves mental endurance, the lack of any physical endurance or structure is far removed from other activities widely branded as a sport. This, for many, is where the argument of whether poker is a sport ends. Poker players are adept at making a considerable number of calculations, decisions and choices throughout a game that requires high concentration. As players are not athletes, however, there will always be a faction of people who maintain it is a game and not a sport.

Poker will always retain its entertainment factor through the high drama and unpredictability that exist within every single game or tournament. Moreover, television broadcasters have every right to show a live event, as it is considered “entertainment” for the viewing public. Millions of people bet on sporting events as a form of entertainment, with poker also taking on this premise with its gameplay and buy-in price. Unlike athletes, however, poker players do not get paid if they are unsuccessful in a poker tournament. They must make a living from their winnings.