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Old 07-21-2016, 02:06 PM   #1
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Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I'm on the fence about this one and I've spent quite a bit of time researching the arguments for and against professional poker being sinful. First of all I want to clarify I'm NOT asking if "gambling" is sinful, or if playing poker for fun is sinful. I am specifically talking about the predatory aspect of making your living by taking advantage of other peoples mistakes (to put it in the most negative wording.)

To start off, let's keep in mind the Golden Rule, which sums up basically every commandment in the Bible; "love your neighbor as yourself."

Now I will list the arguments (both for and against) in no particular order of strength/weakness.

1. "You shall not steal." -- I've heard this argument made on several blog posts, that bluffing is technically stealing. But when I think of the word stealing I think of someone taking something unlawfully. The dictionaries definition is "to take the property of another without right or permission." When someone sits down at a poker table, they are giving you the right to try to win their money. Their personal property is fair game at that point. As long as nothing you are doing is illegal or CHEATING, I think it would be quite a stretch to make the argument that poker winnings are "stolen" funds.

2. "Lying." -- In poker you try to conceal/disguise the strength of your hand. Some people would argue that this falls under the category of "lying and deception." But is this any different than a baseball pitcher throwing a cureveball to keep the hitter guessing? If I bet $500 on the river and someone asks me if I'm bluffing and I don't reply, how am I lying?

3. "Some of your opponents might have gambling addictions and be losing their paycheck." -- True, and if I own a winery some of the customers might be alcoholics on the verge of divorce. Does that make it a sin for me to sell wine?

4. "The love of money, covetousness, selfish ambition, greed etc"-- It's clear that we can't serve both God and money, but everyone needs income. It's easy to fall into the trap of desiring to be rich. But personally I'm not looking to get rich quick when I play poker. I put in countless hours of studying and hard work to make good decisions, and even still only expect to make a slow and steady profit. When my opponents have huge stacks in front of them, I don't covet their money. "In all situations I've learned to be content," whether I'm getting bulldozed at the table and stuck $5,000 that night or I'm winning every single pot. What's commanded is for us to be content with our daily bread, food, and clothing. I'm not trying to get rich, just trying to make a living.

5. "Poker is a predatory game." -- The only way to make money is if there are weaker players at the table who are making lots of fundamental mistakes. The definition of predatory is "exploiting others for personal gain or profit." The Bible commands us not to even charge interest on loans. The only way to make money in poker is at someone else's expense. But isn't this true for just about everything in a capitalist society? The Bible commands us to "Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."-Phillipians 2:3.
Yes, you are profiting from other peoples mistakes. But so is Cold Stone, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, etc profiting off peoples poor health choices. The term "predatory" holds a strong connotation that the prey is naive or unwilling, which isn't really the case with poker.

6. "You aren't providing any service to society." -- Technically you're providing recreation and entertainment. And you can donate x% of your winnings to the poor.

There is freedom in Christ, but that's not a license for immorality. I've gone to several pastors and fellow saints for wise counsel and get mixed and adamant replies from both sides of the spectrum.

Last edited by Loading....; 07-21-2016 at 02:12 PM.
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Old 07-21-2016, 02:42 PM   #2
festeringZit
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I'm throwing this out for discussion:

How is playing poker professionally different from... say, playing tennis professionally.

A tennis player pays an entry fee to enter into a tournament, and uses their skills
against other players, taking advantage of their mistakes on the court to win a match.
The winner moves on and makes more money as they advance during the tournament.
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Old 07-21-2016, 02:46 PM   #3
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I don't think there is a "right" or "wrong" answer here. I think it's something you
have to decide for yourself. Personally, I don't think I'd be comfortable trying to
make a living at it, for many reasons. But, I do enjoy playing a few times a month,
and making money from it.
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Old 07-21-2016, 02:47 PM   #4
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

It's a freaking game.....
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Old 07-21-2016, 02:49 PM   #5
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I'm not a Christian but I have thought about this too (whether playing poker professionally is a sin within the Christian understanding of the word).

My thoughts are that playing poker professionally is fine as long as you aren't harming someone else while doing so. If you're playing against recreational players who aren't gambling irresponsibly there should be no problem. If someone is clearly gambling irresponsibly you should quit and perhaps talk to them if you get the chance. With that said putting this into practice is where things get challenging.
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Old 07-21-2016, 05:43 PM   #6
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I have walked away from tables where i know there's an inveterate gambler or drunk person who is just going to lose his mortgage payment again. But i'm not a pro player and don't need the money, so i can't judge others.
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Old 07-21-2016, 10:51 PM   #7
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

Quote:
Originally Posted by festeringZit View Post
I'm throwing this out for discussion:

How is playing poker professionally different from... say, playing tennis professionally.

A tennis player pays an entry fee to enter into a tournament, and uses their skills
against other players, taking advantage of their mistakes on the court to win a match.
The winner moves on and makes more money as they advance during the tournament.
This is a good comparison I think. The only difference is that in tennis, the winner isn't hurting the loser financially nearly as much as the loser in a poker match (I don't think anyone has ended up homeless because they were a bad tennis player)

When Jesus was asked, "who is my neighbor?" he gave the example of the Good Samaritan and the man who was laying there naked and beaten and near death. I think as Christians we will be judged on how we treat people who are in desperate need, not punished for outwitting a successful businessman in a high stakes poker game. It sounds like Jesus will judge us on how we treated "the least of these" but I could be wrong.
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Old 07-22-2016, 11:52 AM   #8
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

"Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves." Romans 14:22

Personally I don't believe it's wrong. Mainly just double checking that I'm not in direct violation of any specific commandments.
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Old 07-22-2016, 03:28 PM   #9
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

Quote:
Originally Posted by festeringZit View Post
I'm throwing this out for discussion:

How is playing poker professionally different from... say, playing tennis professionally.

A tennis player pays an entry fee to enter into a tournament, and uses their skills
against other players, taking advantage of their mistakes on the court to win a match.
The winner moves on and makes more money as they advance during the tournament.
The difference is that professional poker players primarily compete against non-professionals, whereas professional tennis players play other professionals. A closer equivalent would be like the golf pro that hustles people on the golf course into make losing bets against him.

The problem here is that the worse tennis player is not making a clear mistake in playing that losing match against you - it is probably good for their career. On the other hand, nearly everyone that plays above 2/5 live would be making a good life decision if they quit.
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Old 07-22-2016, 03:33 PM   #10
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by walkby View Post
I'm not a Christian but I have thought about this too (whether playing poker professionally is a sin within the Christian understanding of the word).

My thoughts are that playing poker professionally is fine as long as you aren't harming someone else while doing so. If you're playing against recreational players who aren't gambling irresponsibly there should be no problem. If someone is clearly gambling irresponsibly you should quit and perhaps talk to them if you get the chance. With that said putting this into practice is where things get challenging.
I'm doubtful this is workable advice for professionals. First, almost everyone playing at high limits of poker are irresponsible gamblers if you take a more rigorous view (as I do). If you have lower standards, it will be difficult (except for a few obvious cases, such as very drunk people) to identify who is being responsible.

Also, this would pretty severely cut into your bottom line.
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Old 07-22-2016, 03:37 PM   #11
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by Loading.... View Post
6. "You aren't providing any service to society." -- Technically you're providing recreation and entertainment. And you can donate x% of your winnings to the poor.
I think this is the best answer. If you are engaged in an industry that brings harm on people's lives (such as poker, McDonalds, Stone Cold), you should offset this harm by giving more money to charity. But you have to actually do it, not just talk about it as a theoretical way to justify playing poker.
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Old 07-22-2016, 06:37 PM   #12
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

Poker is not "sinful". What is sinful is compulsion, greed, anger, jealousy, entitlement, etc. Watch yourself to avoid being swept up in these emotions and you can both make a living as well as grow in your spirituality.
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Old 07-23-2016, 06:49 AM   #13
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by Original Position View Post
I think this is the best answer. If you are engaged in an industry that brings harm on people's lives (such as poker, McDonalds, Stone Cold), you should offset this harm by giving more money to charity. But you have to actually do it, not just talk about it as a theoretical way to justify playing poker.
Do you think that donating to charity offsets the harm caused to those that you took the money from? Do good deeds negate sins?

I was thinking that this was one of the more problematic elements if we're trying to show that playing poker isn't a sin because I don't think that taking people's money off them (and if you're not doing that the conversation is moot anyway), and causing them to lose, could be considered 'entertainment' for them, if we're defining entertainment as including providing someone "amusement or enjoyment". And Recreation is defined as 'activity done for enjoyment when one is not working' and similarly to entertainment, unless someone enjoys losing money, or finds it fun or relaxing, I wouldn't really call it recreation.
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Old 07-23-2016, 06:05 PM   #14
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

Good deeds do not negate sin. Our righteous deeds are like filthy garments in the eyes of the Lord and no amount of good works can save us. Argument 6 is merely a human argument and I probably shouldn't have included that.

Poker is certainly a game of entertainment for people even though they lose money at it and go home frustrated. It's no different than golfing which also costs people tens of thousands of dollars and a world of frustration, but they still enjoy it.
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Old 07-24-2016, 05:31 AM   #15
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by Mightyboosh View Post
Do you think that donating to charity offsets the harm caused to those that you took the money from? Do good deeds negate sins?

I was thinking that this was one of the more problematic elements if we're trying to show that playing poker isn't a sin because I don't think that taking people's money off them (and if you're not doing that the conversation is moot anyway), and causing them to lose, could be considered 'entertainment' for them, if we're defining entertainment as including providing someone "amusement or enjoyment". And Recreation is defined as 'activity done for enjoyment when one is not working' and similarly to entertainment, unless someone enjoys losing money, or finds it fun or relaxing, I wouldn't really call it recreation.
Given the majority of players that play poker lose money I don't see how it would be sustained if they weren't enjoying it or found it recreational, personally I went from being a backed mtt player where poker wasn't fun and was serious business to a recreational player who will register for a dozen tournaments 2/3 times a year and enjoy the challenge without regard for the money I play with. Sure I'm playing for a chance to bink something but without an expectation I'll bink it.

When you play are you playing for fun?

To answer the first question I'd say yes good done by donating money can offset the harm done by taking it from someone. Firstly there is the view that the harm done to a degenerate gambler is over determined. If you don't take his money his money will still be taken by another. In order to have a better outcome then you only need donate more than the average poker professional donates all other things being equal.
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Old 07-24-2016, 02:32 PM   #16
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

People lose money on almost all their recreational activity's.


Pros providing entertainment though. Come on. There are home games all over with no pros. The game is the entertainment. Not playing with someone good at it. They are usually boring nits and tags...games far more entertaining (fun) without them.
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Old 07-24-2016, 02:33 PM   #17
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by dereds View Post
Given the majority of players that play poker lose money I don't see how it would be sustained if they weren't enjoying it or found it recreational, personally I went from being a backed mtt player where poker wasn't fun and was serious business to a recreational player who will register for a dozen tournaments 2/3 times a year and enjoy the challenge without regard for the money I play with. Sure I'm playing for a chance to bink something but without an expectation I'll bink it.
Do people enjoy losing and find it fun? Do players that lose, but still find it fun suffer from some kind of problem like Dunning Kruger, or some psychological compulsion that you're in fact taking advantage of?

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When you play are you playing for fun?
I'm playing for the fun of being better at it than other people, and winning, so I don't enjoy losing. In fact, the pressure I put on myself to be better stops it being fun, I don't play anywhere near as much as I used to. I was finding it too stressful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dereds View Post
To answer the first question I'd say yes good done by donating money can offset the harm done by taking it from someone. Firstly there is the view that the harm done to a degenerate gambler is over determined. If you don't take his money his money will still be taken by another. In order to have a better outcome then you only need donate more than the average poker professional donates all other things being equal.
Isn't it better to not do the harm in the first place? I don't think a rule of 'if I do bad, I have to do equal good' would really work, there are bad things that would soon cause it to break.

I don't find the 'if you don't take it someone else will' to be at all a satisfactory defence. Taking money from degenerate gamblers is not a good thing, you should be a person who doesn't do it, and that would be being the change that you want to see in the world.

(I'm just arguing this out btw, I personally have no problem taking money off people at poker, I wish I was better at it)
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Old 07-25-2016, 05:25 AM   #18
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by Mightyboosh View Post
Do people enjoy losing and find it fun? Do players that lose, but still find it fun suffer from some kind of problem like Dunning Kruger, or some psychological compulsion that you're in fact taking advantage of?
It's not that I enjoy losing I enjoy playing and am prepared to pay to play with the chance that I win. I have spent time trying to improve those chances but I play recreationally.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mightyboosh View Post
Isn't it better to not do the harm in the first place? I don't think a rule of 'if I do bad, I have to do equal good' would really work, there are bad things that would soon cause it to break.

I don't find the 'if you don't take it someone else will' to be at all a satisfactory defence. Taking money from degenerate gamblers is not a good thing, you should be a person who doesn't do it, and that would be being the change that you want to see in the world.

(I'm just arguing this out btw, I personally have no problem taking money off people at poker, I wish I was better at it)
That someone else will take their money is not a defence as much as it is a factor to be considered when calculating the total harm done.

Scenario 1: Degenerate gambler loses money to me I donate x% to charity.
Scenario 2: Degenerate gambler loses money to someone else who spends the money on an expensive watch

Both scenarios have the same harm but scenario 1 has a better outcome to 2 so on consequentialist grounds we should prefer scenario 1 to 2.

I know you don't find consequentialism compelling so that argument won't work for you, I am much more sympathetic to consequentialism so it does for me.
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Old 07-25-2016, 03:47 PM   #19
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by dereds View Post
That someone else will take their money is not a defence as much as it is a factor to be considered when calculating the total harm done.

Scenario 1: Degenerate gambler loses money to me I donate x% to charity.
Scenario 2: Degenerate gambler loses money to someone else who spends the money on an expensive watch

Both scenarios have the same harm but scenario 1 has a better outcome to 2 so on consequentialist grounds we should prefer scenario 1 to 2.
So the ends justify the means?
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Old 07-25-2016, 05:48 PM   #20
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mightyboosh View Post
Do you think that donating to charity offsets the harm caused to those that you took the money from? Do good deeds negate sins?

I was thinking that this was one of the more problematic elements if we're trying to show that playing poker isn't a sin because I don't think that taking people's money off them (and if you're not doing that the conversation is moot anyway), and causing them to lose, could be considered 'entertainment' for them, if we're defining entertainment as including providing someone "amusement or enjoyment". And Recreation is defined as 'activity done for enjoyment when one is not working' and similarly to entertainment, unless someone enjoys losing money, or finds it fun or relaxing, I wouldn't really call it recreation.
Entertainment -- By your definition, people who play slot machines could in no way be entertained because they are usually losing money. Yet people do it all the time, and they would classify it as entertainment. By thinking about only the financial consequences of playing, you've clearly missed the entire framework of entertainment. I have to pay to watch a movie in the theater. They don't pay me. Am I therefore not entertained because I've lost money?

This is just such a terrible definition that it's not clear what to do with it other than just throw it out as being useless.
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Old 07-26-2016, 01:51 PM   #21
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I can speak from the Roman Catholic point of view: Gambling on games of chance with or without an edge is not inherently sinful unless, in an individual's case, it separates one from the will of God. We have all seen people in all walks of life allow almost every activity to separate them from God, so it is a constant individual personal inventory that keeps you "right" with God, for lack of a better word.

I assume other Christian sects, like certain fundamentalist groups would completely disagree, and forbid certain behaviors as solely sinful. Gambling, dancing, drinking, et cetera. Catholics are pretty liberal on the small stuff, as long as it doesn't lead to mortal sin, or a corruption of other duties.

Render unto Caesar and all that....................
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Old 07-27-2016, 09:18 PM   #22
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I'm no longer a Christian, but I was raised Catholic, and they don't seem to have a problem taking money from gamblers with weekly bingo and Vegas nights.
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Old 07-28-2016, 08:41 AM   #23
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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I'm no longer a Christian, but I was raised Catholic, and they don't seem to have a problem taking money from gamblers with weekly bingo and Vegas nights.
But... But that money goes directly to Jesus! I presume to help with his rent in heaven?
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Old 07-30-2016, 04:13 AM   #24
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

I personally don't have a problem with playing poker professionally as a christian.

In 1 Corintians 10:27-30 Paus says that is it fine to eat meat at a sinners home, even though the meat might be offered to an idol.

I think the same is true for playing poker. As long as you do not know that someone has a gamble problem, you can play him. You shouldn't really care where his money came from, it is not your conscience.
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Old 03-28-2018, 04:23 PM   #25
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Re: Christians, is it a sin to be a professional poker player?

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Originally Posted by Loading.... View Post
Good deeds do not negate sin. Our righteous deeds are like filthy garments in the eyes of the Lord and no amount of good works can save us. Argument 6 is merely a human argument and I probably shouldn't have included that.

Poker is certainly a game of entertainment for people even though they lose money at it and go home frustrated. It's no different than golfing which also costs people tens of thousands of dollars and a world of frustration, but they still enjoy it.
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