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The Exaggerations of Online Poker

One thing that never ceases to amaze me are the exaggerations that surround online poker (online gambling in general) and the social ramifications of playing the game.

People who are anti-gambling portray online poker (and all online gambling) as the crack cocaine of gambling addiction. “Click your mouse, lose your house” and other dumb phrases are popular. They’ll point to the Greg Hogan case and act like online poker is going to turn college kids into a bunch of bank robbers (bad bank robbers at that). There used to be even talk about how online gambling somehow was used by terrorists as a method of money laundering.

Considering the readership of this blog are online poker players, I don’t think I need to go into detail about why these fears are exaggerated/outright stupid.

On the flip side, people that are pro-online poker exaggerate the benefits of online poker, and the benefits of online poker becoming regulated.

First, let’s talk about what online poker is. It’s primariliy a form of entertainment. Most people spend money on it. Some people spend too much, but most spend as much as they would expect. Think about it. Even if you are loser at online poker, if you divide the amount spent/hours played, it’s likely much less than you spend going to a night club. And what’s more fun- gambling or having a beer spilled on you by some drunk douchebag? Some people win a little money, but at the end of the day, it’s a -EV game because of the rake. But everything that is ‘entertainment’ and not ‘work’ is -EV. Two hours at a strip club = much more -EV than 20 hours of online poker for most guys.

There are some mental benefits to playing online poker, such as an appreciation of risk/reward and calculating probabilities, but let’s not exaggerate these too much either. I know many great poker players that are still idiots at life. Poker skills are not super transferable, and you don’t need to play poker to understand expected value and variance.

Now, let’s go back to online poker regulation. What would happen if online poker was fully legalized in a country like the United States…where online poker sites were operated like a casino is in Nevada? Would we all turn into horrible degenerates like the anti-online gambling zealots act like? Of course not…in fact, not too many more people would play in general.

On the flip side, I don’t see much good it would do either. Deposits/cashouts would be easier, but that’s about it. All of the regulation and taxes on the industry would likely be transferred onto us in the form of higher rakes. In fact, many sites would choose not to be regulated and would just operate as-is. Why would PokerStars choose to pay higher tax when they can just avoid the regulators like they do currently?

It’s been about seven years since online poker went mainstream. In that time, how much of an effect has online poker had on the social welfare of society? How much has regulation affected the industry as a whole? The answer to both questions is near zero. The industry has changed a lot from within, but that’s about it. Some companies benefited from the UIGEA (cough Full Tilt) while those that pulled out of the US got hurt. Online poker hasn’t turned everyone into a bunch of gambling degenerates, just like making more money doesn’t turn people into sex addicts (South Park reference for those confused).

So my question, dear reader, is it online poker that lends itself to vast exaggerations? Or do people just exaggerate everything in general?

After the intense health care debate in the US and the exaggerated arguments from both sides, I’m leaning towards people are just idiots in general.


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