Poker Tips By George: Gambling or Gaming?

By George Epstein
October 14, 2020

The terms are so similar – gaming and gambling. They are often used interchangeably. But there are subtle differences, and I’ll briefly explain them in this article. After you read them, perhaps you’ll be able to properly identify the category in which the game of poker belongs.

What is Gambling?

Gambling is an activity in which those involved risk something of value in hope of gaining more than the amount they put at risk – usually money or chips – but not necessarily. The winner could gain a personal service or an object of value from the loser. It involves wagering – betting. Numerous casino games are often associated with pure gambling. These include slot machines, table games, keno, etc. Poker freerolls, by contrast, involve no gambling since the player has nothing at risk.


Moreover, placing a bet on a sporting event or an election is also a form of gambling. For example, I was “sure” that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election against Donald Trump; it cost me $100.

Humans have always been attracted to gambling. It seems to be in our nature. We love the challenge and personal interaction. There is always the risk of becoming addicted to the detriment of the gambler and his family.


Gaming is a broad term for various types of play or activity. It may include elements of gambling in many of its contexts, but the term can be broadly applied to non-financial transactions such as online video games – including multi-player role-playing games – that sometimes use money. Often, cash is used in these games to buy items used in the games. Strictly speaking, there is no gambling or wagering involved in these games.


Although profits can be made by the players from games and virtual worlds, actual gambling is rarely found. Virtual world currencies are sometimes exchangeable for actual cash, but at a fraction of “real world” money. Gamers in these games do not consider themselves to be gamblers.

Unlike gambling, gaming is participating in a competition without risking something of value. Millions compete in high school sports, for instance. Likewise, in professional games of sport, one team strives to outscore the other. Winning is the reward. It could well be a trophy inscribed with the winner’s name. Unlike gambling games such as poker, professionals are paid to participate – as if it were a job. The more skilled players usually get paid more; but win or lose, they get the same salary. Do a great job and become more proficient, and the salary may soon rise. It is often negotiable. Supply and demand are factors.

A Key Difference between Gambling and Gaming

In gaming, the outcome is achieved purely by skill, not chance or luck; whereas for gambling, the opposite is usually the case. Strictly speaking, there is no gambling or wagering taking place in these games. Gamers can be paid cash money to play video games! Esports, for instance, is booming, with top talents making very good money from their gaming proficiency.

Interestingly, while poker is a gambling game, there is of course an element of skill. So perhaps there’s legitimate reason to also classify it as gaming, at least in part…

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George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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