Problem gamblers hurt the poker ecosystem

Following the news that Kindred Group wanted to stop problem gambling on its sites, Barry Carter makes the argument that problem gamblers are bad for your long term poker profits too.

Kindred Group

This month Kindred Group, the parent of Unibet, revealed just over 4% of their revenue comes from problem gamblers. They also announced that they planned on reducing that number to 0 by 2023.

Nobody would argue that this wasn’t a good thing, but some poker players might wince at the idea. Problem gamblers play poorly at stakes they should not venture into, like it or not a lot of poker player bankrolls are supplemented by problem gamblers.

That may be the case, but I would argue that it is much better for all poker players if problem gambling was mitigated as much as is realistically possible. Kindred Group are in the casino industry, they also could easily justify the fact that problem gamblers are good for business, but they clearly have the foresight to see how tackling problem gambling is more +EV than letting ‘whales’ lose money to them.

We should support their cause for its own sake, but for poker players I’ll make the case why it is good for the poker ecosystem too.

Shaking off the ‘predatory’ image

A lot of poker marketing is based on exploiting weaker players

It has taken years for poker to shake off some of the predatory marketing that was once commonplace. Poker rooms would boast they have the most fish, training sites would teach you how to beat donks and we had an arsenal of (now thankfully banned) software that would help you get seated with a recreational player.

All of this worked fine when there was an influx of new deposits into the game but, as the industry has seen, when that dried up it led to recreational players getting crushed the moment they sat down. The experience was often so unpleasant they never deposited again.

Now the entire industry is geared towards making poker more fun, less solved and harder for predatory practices to be used. VIP programmes reward casual player habits, new formats remove skill edge and we have things like blind lobbies and anonymous tables to prevent predatory practices.

It may mean that professional players cannot easily crush new players right away, but it does mean that the games are healthier, which ultimately is better than them drying up if you are a serious player.

Poker has an image problem

Problem gambling harms poker’s image

By the same token, problem gambling has the same short term benefit, long term harm for a serious poker player’s bankroll. You clearly benefit when somebody who is out of their depth gets all their money in against you with a trash hand, but every problem gambling instance harms the game.

The media do not run stories that say 90% or more customers at a poker room play socially and responsibly (Kindred’s own figures), but they all lapped up the news that 4% of customers have a problem. Problem gambling is an easy story for the media to write and It is very impactful, especially if the numbers involved are jaw dropping.

Every time a story comes out about problem gambling, thousands of people are put off ever trying a game like poker which is safe, social and even skilful if approached correctly. Poker in particular is always in a PR war where this is concerned because unlike bingo or roulette it is a genuine skill game, though outsiders don’t see it that way.

Poker is healthier without problem gamblers

The gambling industry should lead the way solving problem gambling

I believe poker is a game that can be played for fun, responsibly and, if you put in the time, is profitable. I also believe it is healthier for the poker ecosystem and the game’s reputation if everything is done to keep potential problem gamblers out of it.

Good players need weak players to make a profit. I believe that can still happen without them being problem gamblers. I think it is still possible, and not unethical, to exercise some sort of game selection based on the likelihood of weak players. As long as the game is still fun for the players who lose, poker can be money and time well spent. I even think the ‘fish vs shark’ type marketing is quite harmless banter when none taken to the extremes. 

One final reason to support Kindred’s aim of 0% problem gambler revenue is simply because this is the way the industry is going. Almost every country in the world has seen some new legislation in the last few years that prohibits poker players from some sort of activity that could be viewed as problematic. Some countries are at risk of banning the game completely. Kindred are rightly getting ahead of all that, it’s much better for the game that operators try to end problem gamblers than lawmakers.

Once again, the biggest single reason to support this effort is for its own sake. Anything that could stop somebody causing great financial harm to themselves and their family is impossible to argue against. I would just say that the long term prospects for poker and serious poker players are also much better when problem gambling is stamped out.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments:

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