A friend of mine pointed me to this blog entry, and then we proceeded to have a bit of a discussion with some other friends about Christians playing poker. It is interesting as they suggested maybe hockey and bridge as alternatives for relationship building. Not sure if they have seen Christians play hockey - but give a Christian a stick and they act like the devil. But nonetheless it is a great question: should Christians play poker?
First off I am not a proponent of gambling. I think there is a world of difference between obsessively playing a game that is designed to make the house rich spending money that should be spent on the essentials in life. So you aren't going to get me advocating gambling even as a pasttime. But is poker exclusively gambling?
We have friendly non-cash games at our house. They are loads of fun. You play for bragging rights. But not everyone gets that - some people want money involved to make the game worthwhile??? Even little bits of money??? I am a gamer at heart so I love strategy and I love winning - so I have a bit of trouble understanding that mentality. My dad is like that - he can't play a serious game of poker unless it is for money. So I don't end up playing with gamblers.
But there is a lot of buzz about games like Texas Hold-em and Omaha. And rightly so these are games that mix skill and luck in perfect proportions. Games that you can really connect with emotionally and play with your whole heart. Plus they are all the rage on TV right now (thank you Hockey Strike!) and this has a certain allure - what other game can a fat man win and be treated like an olympic hero? Not many. So that means it has fad status.
Let's see - easy to learn, lots of opportunities to play, unlikely heros, great mix of skill and luck. What is not to love? Well there is that attachment to gambling.
Here is the rub. Most gambling games favour the house. But in poker the house only takes a rake - and if you are playing at home a rake is, I'm pretty sure, illegal. So that puts poker in a slightly different class of games, in my mind anyway. So buying into a tournament for $20 is about the same as paying $35 to buy into a D&D minis tournament (pay for sealed boosters) where I might win other boosters that you know the cost of my entry paid for. What is the difference?
One other thought is, we all know that some folks are going to get addicted to poker. There are even disturbing ads on TV right now about this. My thought is, as a Christian, do I want to abandon folks to that? Or would I rather be there as someone who isn't completely alien to the game but through Christ is able to help others overcome addictions and personal problems that lead to addictions? Yeah, I want to be there. I want to know that there are Christians in that world ready to share the light of Christ where it is needed. I think that is important. Protesting on the sidelines is the last thing I want to see Christians do, addicted to poker is also the last thing I want to see them do (if you are addicted then let's chat, I might be able to help). Here's an idea - look for opportunities to pray for those you play with, I do and it is pretty cool.
My final word on poker is, "shuffle up and deal!"