Gambling problems

by ~ August 23rd, 2008. Filed under: Gambling, General poker strategy.


* Modified February 19th, 2009 *

btw, the “anon” in my domain and in my username does not refer to a poker problem like AlAnon or Gambler’s Anonymous. “Anon” simply refers to the fact that when I orginally made this blog public I wanted myself and my poker usernames to remain private.

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Poker is gambling, and yet, it’s not. You definitely put money at risk (even if it’s play money) in order to have a chance to win money. But the big difference between poker verses blackjack, bingo, or lottery tickets is that in all those other situations, ultimately the house wins.

Now in theory, if you can pick winning sports teams or horses you can also be a winner. I used to spend a lot of time in my office NFL football pool thinking that I had an edge on my co-workers because of my love of football combined with my statistical analysis and tracking, but that edge took so much time to maintain for a questionable amount of edge that I gave up.

With poker it’s much easier and much more obvious that you have an edge. If your bankroll continues to grow in spite of the rake, you have sufficient edge for the levels that you play.

So as a result many poker players don’t consider playing poker to be gambling. Some even consider it a form of investing, much like some people invest in real estate or stocks. I’ve taken some gambling questionnaires and found them to be largely non-applicable, answering “No” or “Never” to most of the questions.

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Still, the concept of gambling in general is something of interest to me. In my research on the internet I was reading an Australian study that referred to CPGI or the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, so I went searching on the internet to find out more about this index. It turns out that in Canada the Alberta Gaming Research Institute developed an index to measure the degree to which gambling is an issue. (Interestingly, The Alberta Gaming Research Institute is housed in the University of Alberta.The University of Alberta is also the worldwide leader in developing a computerized poker bot! Maybe we should all move to Alberta?)

The institute developed the CPGI as a framework to allow them to differentiate different levels of gambling problems, and then looked at other elements for corresponding increases or decreases across the CPGI scale. Since it’s publication in 2002 other research institutes have used this same index as a basis for categorizing persons with gambling problems.

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The key for determining the severity of a person’s gambling problem comes from the responses to 9 questions.

These are the choices:

  1. Never
  2. Sometimes
  3. Most of the time
  4. Almost always
  5. Don’t know
  6. No response

And these are the 9 questions, asked verbally:

  1. Thinking about the past 12 months, have you bet more than you could really afford to lose?
  2. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…have you needed to gamble with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling of excitement?
  3. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…have you gone back another day to try to win back the money you lost?
  4. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…have you borrowed money or sold anything to get money to gamble?
  5. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…have you felt that you might have a problem with gambling?
  6. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…have people criticized your betting or told you that you had a gambling problem, regardless of whether or not you thought it was true?
  7. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…have you felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble?
  8. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…has your gambling caused you any health problems, including stress or anxiety?
  9. (Thinking about the past 12 months)…has your gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household?

Alberta Gaming Research Institute

For each response of “Sometimes” the person was given a score of 1, for each “Most of the time” a score of 2, and for each “Almost always” a 3. The total score then is between 0 and 27. They categorized gamblers as follows:

  1. 0 = non-problem gambler
  2. 1-2 = low risk gambler
  3. 3-7 = moderate risk gambler
  4. 8 and higher = problem gambler

Now for me I could possibly give myself one point for 2, 3 , 7 and 8. On the other hand, not really. Yes, I’ve taken stabs and higher levels to try to recover my attention level, but on the other hand I play far more lower levels that I’m over-rolled for than stabs upwards. And I go back every day, hoping to win if I lost the day before, but hoping to win if I won the day before as well; I don’t go back just because I lost the day before. And yes sometimes I feel some degree of guilt because of the time I spend playing poker or because a tough session has put me in a bit of a bad mood. And yes, I’m not there with a Zen attitude towards my game yet and I do get stress, anxiety when I have a big hand going on.

I don’t know that my answers make me even a moderate risk gambler though, because if I compare myself to a slot machine player or a sports bettor 2 and 3 should be zeros for me, and 8 applies only during the time that I’m actually playing or in a big hand, not during the other 95% of the time that I’m playing or during times I’m not playing at all.

And yet, I sometimes play an lot of poker. Not nearly anything compared to some of my friends, but compared to a working person with a family who has a passion for say tennis or golf, I’d be right there. But the questions in the index have little connection to time spent other than if the respondent feels guilty. The issues have to do with control and with relatively extreme financial and personal consequences which neither I nor any of my poker playing friends (at least that I’m aware of) have problems with.

Which is, of course, a good thing. Part of the reason that poker players don’t easily fall into problem gambling is that there are a wide range of skill levels to play at so a beginner doesn’t have to be competing against experts. This, combined with the fact that poker players harp on bankroll management to each other to help keep ourselves under control helps, but I like the fact that it is very possible to be a winning poker player which means that with patience, discipline and bankroll management, one never need be drawing from personal funds in order to enjoy playing the game.

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