Opinion: Recreational Poker Players Aren’t Losing Money They’re Spending Money

September 26, 2017
Opinion: Recreational Poker Players Aren’t Losing Money They’re Spending Money


There is a deep and growing divide between the professional poker community and the industry when it comes to the esoteric question: “what is good for the game?”

First and foremost, good for the game is little more than a euphemism for what brings money and recreational players into the poker economy.

Professional players, by and large, believe the most alluring pheromone is value. Give recreational players the most bang for their buck and they’ll keep coming back. Rec players will continue to try and turn the proverbial corner and go from a contributor to a winner.

Essentially, pros want online poker sites to provide an environment where players can thrive, and with dedication and effort become winners.

The model they advocate for (big bonuses and rewards) worked well during the poker boom when people were flocking to poker tables like never before.

Now that the spigot has been turned off, the industry has (slowly) come to a different conclusion.

While some players are looking to excel, most people who show up at an online poker site aren’t interested in living the poker dream. They just want to play a little poker.

These players aren’t overly interested in rewards (although no one is going to turn down free money), they’re interested in entertainment.

This isn’t to say you can price-gouge them, but less value isn’t a deal-breaker.

That’s not why I’m here

The disconnect occurs because professionals and wannabe professionals tend to project their motivations onto every other player. Why would you keep playing if you stink and almost always lose? Isn’t that embarrassing? Don’t you want to get better? Aren’t you tired of wasting your money?

But the same could be said of the people who buy valueless chips on a social casino app or spend hundreds of dollars purchasing power-ups for Candy Crush or Angry Birds.

To me, this is a foolish way to spend your money. But the people making these purchases see things differently; they’re spending that money to have fun.

Just like the players on a recreational basketball team, not everyone is there to improve and get better.

I’ve played on many a rec league team, and not too many players do suicides up and down the court on non-game days or shoot 100 free throws in the morning. They might shoot around in their driveway a couple of times a week,  but pretty much, they just show up to the games and that’s about it.

Maybe there is a 20-year-old is trying to improve enough to crack the starting lineup on his college team, but the married 35-year-old with two kids and a good job  is there for an entirely different reason.

The reasons people play recreational sports mirror the reasons people play poker:

  • for the social aspect;
  • Because they have some aptitude for the game;
  • They enjoy the physical/mental activity and competition.

Even if they’re there because they’re decent poker players or enjoy the competition, it’s important to understand that most people have no qualms about gambling with the odds stacked against them.

There are other motivating factors other than winning.

Upshot #1

The biggest misconception professional poker players hold about recreational players is they’re angry, embarrassed, or depressed that they lost money.

It never crosses pros minds that recreational players don’t see poker losses as losing money, rather they see it as spending money.

Money well spent

Recreational players like this aren’t concerned with losing a buy-in or two during most sessions and don’t really care to improve. This money is their entertainment budget, and if it isn’t lost at the poker tables it would be lost in the pits, or spent on some frivolous dinner, or some new toy for the house.

The amount of money wagered on the lottery, slots, and table games make this indisputable. Not to mention the number of quality poker players who can’t stay away from these games despite “knowing better.”

Obviously, something else is making these people gamble with the worst of it. That something else is entertainment.

For a plumber, a paramedic, or a police officer, a Friday night poker session can be a release. It’s not a part-time job, and they don’t want it to be; they don’t have time for that. They already have enough stress in their everyday lives, doubly so if they’re married with kids.

For the average middle-class person, poker is no different than bowling or golf, most people do it because they like it and enjoy it, not because they want to change their stripes and make the PBA or PGA Tour.

The poker community needs to stop looking at recreational players as entry-level poker players who are hell-bent on improving and becoming pros,  and realize they are consumers.

There are some players looking for value.

There are others that want to be professional players.

Most are no different from the occasional blackjack or roulette player who spews of a few hundred dollars. They know they’re -EV, but it’s money they were going to “waste” anyway. What they want when they gamble with it is to have fun and the simple opportunity to book a big win if things go well.

Upshot #2

If poker players (and poker sites and card rooms for that matter) want to attract more recreational players and want these recreational players to choose poker over slots and other games they need to make the game appealing to everyone.

That requires finding the right balance between value, upward mobility, and entertainment.

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