20 March 2006

When is Poker a Sin?

Watched High Stakes Poker last night on the GSN (TiVo'd). Farha is absolutely brilliant, I think, and Negreanu played like a horrible donkey. His hemming and hawing call with second pair when Farha has a set is a stark illustration of the dangers lurking when we're on a slide in a session.

I've posted something that you may find interesting or revolting. I had posted this earlier on FullContactPoker but thought readers here may find it either revolting, intriguing, or helpful.

Daniel has been kind enough to respond to a few emails of mine a couple of years ago on his Christian faith, and on his FullContactPoker forums he has a large area devoted to religion. He speaks of his conversion after reading Lee Strobel's A Case for Christ. One thing I really like about live play especially is that I am with a tremendously diverse group of people when I'm playing in a card room. Racially, ethnically, religiously, demographically, it is significantly different for me than my normal suburban lifestyle.

As a strong believer and an older fart (41), balancing my faith and my passion for poker can be difficult at times. For one, most conservative/evangelical believers are not knowledgeable about poker, so the easy default is that it lies somewhere beyond sin in the bad sin area, grouped with frequenting prostitutes or beating your children. As the church I go to is very conservative, the few times I've tried to have a meaningful discussion on the topic usually gets my hand slapped severely. It is difficult to have relevant dialogue with believers on the topic.

Having said that, there is tremendous risk in poker, and probably more relevantly online poker. Let's move beyond poker and look at some of the things surrounding it (and I'd like to put aside professional play for this). Poker isn't unique to other pursuits, but let me lay these risk areas out as I see them.
  • Poker is an addictive, potentially consuming pursuit. There is risk that this is an enabler of other sin in one's life, putting poker above responsibilities, love of God and others, etc.
  • Addictive behavior can get in the way of putting God first and looking to His will. This is similar to the first point, but there is risk that my pursuit of poker and the significant time and mental energy spent detracts from my pursuit and focus on God. This isn't any different than virtually anything (work, school, girlfriend and wife), but it is something to be aware of.
  • Deceit and lying. I often hide my play from others, like my wife. This not only is a sin, but there is risk that it additionally damages our relationship. Having seen various blogs regarding disapproval of poker from spouses, I would assume I'm not alone here.
  • Stewardship. While I agree that putting my money at risk playing poker is similar to buying stocks or starting my own company, there is risk that it becomes both consuming as well as has the chance of being significantly damaging.

So, when is poker a sin, and when does poker lead to sin? Sometimes play can be evil (like yesterday's short FullTilt session when my aces were cracked by Td6d, catching the flush on the river), but I would be interested in any thoughts here.

I'll post tomorrow on a related but different topic: the risk to relationships pursuing poker can cause and what can be done about it.

Congrats to SurlyPokerGnome for crashing out in 2nd place in the WSOP Blogger tourney Sunday night won by Gracie. Mark lives in Hawaii, so it's hard to feel too much sympathy for him. I have been amazed after reading all the blogs about playing in the tourney. Most people's opinion, by and large, seemed to be like this: most of the players sucked and I should have done better than I did. The beautiful Bell Curve at work. I assume I'm a better player than I really am so I'm sure I would be part of the same contingent, but it was amusing that everyone thought most of the players were mediocre.

Nice to know if you Google poker frog card protector photo, this blog comes up as #2 and #3 on the search list. I was wondering why so many people were flocking here...


Blogger Fat Dan said...

As you mentioned, Poker can be a comsuming past time and can cause you to put it first before God and religion. but isn't that true with every single thing in life. Everything.

If you go to church every single day, just to be there and to be recognized as going to church every day. To be popular amoungst the congregation and to recieve notariety, is it worse than not going to church at all and being humble? Everything in life can lead you away from your faith. It is your faith that finds the good in everything. Take poker, if you didn't love poker and play poker, and blog about poker, would you be taking the time to share your faith with other poker players, who happen to read your blog? Isn't this exactly what Jesus asks of us? To share your faith with others.

9:01 AM  
Blogger kurokitty said...

Yet it's a bell curve heavily influenced by luck.

11:28 AM  
Blogger fairnbalncd said...

Poker is a sin when you allow it to become one.

"Go to Church" is an often overused phrase. Your church is within you. A gift. Given to you at birth.

You can go to your "Church" whenever you like, as often as you like. When the Disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come" not go to Church.

Sitting in a garage will no more make me a Buick, than sitting in a Church will make me a Christian.

Overindulgence is the sin. Poker isn't.

What you do with your profits is as important as how you earn your profits.

A man/woman so consumed with growing their infant business by working 80+ hours a week, to support their church and family, is no more guilty than the man who supports his church and family by poker 40 hours a week.

If poker is a losing proposition for somebody, and interferes with other daily activities of life, then we no longer have a "sin", we have an addiction and obsession.

4:12 PM  
Blogger C.L. Russo said...

"So, when is poker a sin, and when does poker lead to sin? Sometimes play can be evil (like yesterday's short FullTilt session when my aces were cracked by Td6d, catching the flush on the river)"

Ha! Whatever you decide about poker, don't lose your sense of humor!

I'll echo that anything can be addicting and can lead to deceit, etc. I'm a writer, and at one point my obsession with it led to a distancing from my family, work, etc., just like poker or alcohol can do to others.

I never did understand why gambling is considered a sin. It always seemed to me that the act of making any bet, no matter how insignificant, was considered sinful, and I never understood how that was the case. When I plunk down a 4 cent big blind, I'm not putting my family's livlihood at risk. How is that insulting God?

At any rate, good luck with working out this dilemma

8:46 PM  
Blogger WillWonka said...

Great post cc as I struggle with the very same thing.

If you look at the time I spend playing poker vs being in the Word everyday, it is not even close and is very disturbing when I think about it.

Having said that, when is poker a sin? As the Bible says, we can only serve one master and if anything (including poker) takes priority over your relationship with God.. That is sin!!!

Playing poker, on the other hand, is not a sin (in my humble opinion).. of course there are grey areas when you start looking at the legalness. so that might be sin... If you take profits out, are you not tithing? That would be sin. Greed... Sin..

At the end of the day, we have to be OK with God on our personal relationship level. Me, personally, I am OK with it. I play poker because I love to play.. that doesn't mean at all that my love for Christ is overshadowed by this because it is not.

11:04 PM  
Blogger PokerSweetHome said...

Wonderful, deep questions that every poker player should be asking themselves. Great stuff. I struggle with many of the same moral dilemmas with my poker play, but I do make a point of having the poker "out in the open" in my close personal relationships.

4:25 AM  
Blogger cc said...

Thanks to everyone chiming in. I don't think poker in and of itself is a sin, but it is an area of risk for me that can lead to sin (similar to fairnbalncd's thoughts). willwonka's comments are quite poignant. Think of how much time I play, compare that to the time Muslims spend in prayer, compare that to the time I spend in prayer. During our worship service last Sunday, the minister quoted this from Martin Luther: I pray an hour every day, except when I get very busy. Then I pray two hours a day. I can't imagine any relationship that would survive the rather one-sided relationship I have with my Father, yet His grace sustains me all the time. Thanks for all these thoughts, and keep chiming in.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I am so glad to find another believer who is an avid poker player. I didn't get much of a response from Kid Poker when I tried to discuss faith with him. Drop me a line, I'd like to discuss this more with you!!

1:21 PM  
Blogger tbaker3 said...

I noticed everyone seems to have the same type of justification when it comes to poker. I too like to play online poker and agree that poker can be manageable. It's not the action of playing but the motive of why one is playing. But let me ask this question??? As a believer of God's Word, is it worth dabbling with huge temptations of greed which is sin to play a game. Also Proverbs 1:19 talks about those who are greedy of gain.... so why do most of us play poker?

11:20 PM  
Blogger tbaker3 said...

Also, not to be the guy who craps on poker but if you really want to search yourself whether poker is right or wrong consider this....Poker is often considered a sinful activity due to its close relationship with gambling. The Bible instructs us to keep ourselves from the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5). The Word of God also teaches us to stay away from attempts to "get rich quick" (Proverbs 13:11; 23:5; Ecclesiastes 5:10).

Is poker gambling? OR is it a skill game with odds just like any other risk?

11:25 PM  
Blogger Brenton said...

In all things God looks at ones heart. Have no Other Gods. Love the Lord your God with all your heart all your mind and all your soun, and love your neighbor as yourself we can get bogged down on what and what isn't sin. Do you serve money or does money serve you. does your participation in poker lead others toward or away from God. As people we can rationalise things to suit ourselves only we know in our heart wether some things are a sin or not, and if i am in doubt then i say i am. I like to have a beer with mates but i will not drink with someone whom i know has a problem and does not have victory in this area, Paul says to be careful not to cause a brother to stumble. I myself do not judge others hearts on this matter, i like poker, but I Love GOD.

8:48 AM  
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