Is Statistical Tournament Poker Gambling?

I’m a poker player, not a professional by any means, but not bad player either. This last month a new poker parlor opened in Portland, Oregon that got my interest. I had seen lots of tournament poker in bars around Portland but they didn’t appeal to me for a few reasons…

1. They were in a bar, which meant a smoke filled environment and I am not fond of cigarette smoke.

2. The nights of play varied, often it was like every Tuesday night but not every night, if I wanted to vary my nights of play I had to go to different locations.

3. There was no guarantee that I could play, if I made the trip to the bar and the seats at the tables were already assigned I was SOL, I made the trip for no reason, or I had to wait 2 hours for the next game to begin, which might already be all assigned.

4. There was an expectation to use the establishment, and I agree with this, if they host a poker game they should expect the participants to buy food, drink, and whatever else. But extra bar food is not always in my budget.

5. Because the game was free it was usually crowded and the seats taken up by regulars who usually did not use the establishment, they even had the audacity to bring food or drink from another location into the establishment where the game was being played.

So, needless to say I did not play in the bar tourneys much. In steps this new poker room, National Poker Challenge, opening a new location here in Portland in the Cedar Hills area. I had to check it out and I was pleasantly surprised. They had addressed all of the issues I had with bar tournaments.

1. The room was non-smoking, a smoking area had been set up outside for the players that had to have their addiction to get their fix.

2. There are games every day, several times a day. They open at 3:00pm and close around 10:00pm with their first game at 3:15pm and their last game currently around 8:30pm.

3. They have online sign-up available or you can call the room for a seat, if the game is full they can tell you the likelihood of you getting a seat as an alternate and if they don’t have enough players for a game they will call you and tell you so. They exercise an in-your-seat policy, at the time the game is supposed to start if you are not in-your-seat or at least called and told them that you are on your way, your seat is given to an alternate.

4. and 5. Because the location is devoted to the game and not a bar or restaurant itself there is no expectation to purchase anything from the establishment because poker is its business.

Their business model is similar to the bar tournaments in that you are not playing for cash but are playing for points and statistical analysis of your play. Rather then charging the bar owners for running the tournaments they charge the players directly and statistically track the players play. The players are charged a monthly subscription that pays for the facilities, the dealers, and the statistic tracking. They do offer invitational tournaments for the top players that have cash and prizes. There is no charge for the invitational tournament. So is this gambling?

According to the Oregon Department of Justice it is, because the players are paying a fee to play and there are prizes at the end. But what makes this different from other events? Is it the poker chips? Are poker players being discriminated against because they use a piece of clay to track their points during a game? Think about it, you can have a chess tournament with an entry fee, there are prizes at the end for the best players, but does the Department of Justice call that gambling?

You can have a marathon where the runners pay an entry fee and there are prizes at the end, and most of the runners don’t even have a chance of finishing first, but is this called gambling? But because poker players play a game that uses chips it is called gambling when the games they are paying for don’t even have prizes. So, again, is it gambling? In my humble opinion, No it is not gambling. You are playing a game of skill and having your skill tracked. My hope is that the Oregon DoJ is not successful in its discrimination of this location and drops their investigation.

I invite you to join us in the poker room and try your skill at the table, see how they track your statistics and see how it may improve your play. After all, their tag line is “Do you know who the best poker player is? We do!”

Asian Gambling Basics

Gambling became popular in China in the last phase of the imperial dynasty i.e. from 1644 to 1912. Canton, Macao, Shanghai and Hong Kong became the famous for their liquor and gambling. These areas inhabited foreigners, usually Americans, who were known to be rough. Moreover, majority of these inhabitants were males. Chinese natives indulged in gambling along with the foreigners.

Famous gambling games in China include Mah Jongg and Pai Gow.

Pia Gow consists of a bank having one woodpile. The banking duties are entrusted to one of the players. Other players are given four tiles of the woodpile, which they have to group in pairs of two such that the player’s pair should have a greater value than the bank. If the player succeeds then he wins the bet. A lot of money can exchange hands over this game.

Mah Jongg, meaning ‘sparrow’ is an ancient game which was developed primarily for the rich class of China. The game is said to have been invented by a fisherman to prevent sea sickness. It is said that the fisherman invented this game to distract the other fishermen from the surroundings, so that they do not feel sea sick in the middle of the sea. Later, a Chinese general heard of the game and engaged his soldiers in it at night to prevent them from falling asleep. The game underwent a lot of variations and every region called it with a different name. Finally, the game was standardized in early 1990s. the game consists of 136 to 144 tiles depending on the whether the players choose to play with flowers or seasons. The play resembles rummy except for the fact that the game is played with tiles. The game also uses a pair of dice and chips to keep the score. It requires four players, the aim of each being to obtain a set of tiles. The set types that are permitted are “kong”, “pung” and “chow”. A complete hand contains four sets and a pair of similar tiles. The fist one to have this combination of fourteen tiles wins.

Another game is Sci Bo, meaning ‘two dice’. This game is a betting game with players betting on the total of their dice. It is played with three dice. The bets include small bets that is the total may fall; between the range of four to ten, or big bets i.e. the total may fall between eleven to seventeen. The players shake the dice in a cup and keep the cup upside down with the dice hidden in the cup. Wagers are then made on the outcome. The player guessing the total can earn hugs sums. It is rumored that skilful players can predict the total by hearing the clanking of dice in the cup. In casinos the entire game is mechanized. Bets are placed on the number marked on the table. The dice are then shaken using a vibrating platform. The results are displayed on a screen. Other famous gambling games include Keno and Pachinko.

Despite the popularity of these gambling games, not all Chinese states are ready to legalize it. While Macao has legalized gambling, Shanghai carries it on illegally. In Hong Kong, only horse raising is legalized and The Hong Kong Jockey Club earns huge revenue.

Las Vegas "Whales"

What Las Vegas jargon names “whales” is in fact the creme of the high rollers species. They are a handful of people that in some opinions don’t exceed 500 individuals in the world. Las Vegas hoteliers are nuts about them; some claim four or five of those whales bet much more than the rest of the thousands customers they receive daily. No wonder they are suspected of going as far as selling their first born child to get one of those whales into their gaming area.

Five tips to recognise a whale

* the size of the bet: $50,000 is the low end; Australian tycoon Kerry Packer likes to play seven blackjack hands at one time; his top bet was $375,000;

* the line of credit: 4 to 5 million dollars for one weekend; a fortune for us ordinary earthlings, pocket money for a “whale”;

* the treat: whales get all the freebies from the hotel they play: fine dining, luxury accommodations, private jet transportation, expensive gifts… often the US visa for the Asian high rollers;

* the escort: it usually includes bodyguards, beautiful gals and close friends; Las Vegas history saved for the record a legendary tale in which the Saudi Prince Adnan Khashoggi dropped for a bet at Stardust with an entourage of a dozen people;

* the generosity: whether they win or loose, everybody’s happy as long as they play; “whales” don’t spare tips & gifts.

While the “whales” number just a few hundreds in the world, the amounts they can afford to lose are purely impressive; that is why hoteliers pay specially trained staff for “whales hunting”. The Asians form a big part of this exclusivist market, about 80 %. The bottom line is to keep them coming in, at the same rate, after nine eleven.

Unfortunately, Las Vegas seems to be experiencing a decrease in whale strands these days. One reason, that all hoteliers agree about, is they don’t get as much privacy in Las Vegas casinos as they would normally get in other gaming destinations of the world. While hotel owners in Las Vegas await their VIP saloons approved, the “whales” gamble in Macau, Monaco or Australia.

Macau Travel – A Night at the Casino

Macau, or “Asia’s Las Vegas” as it is sometimes referred to, has gone from zero to hero during the last decade, outrunning its Nevada counterpart in terms of both volume and range of games, and while the former Portuguese colony has much more than just gambling, a Macau travel plan is incomplete without visiting some of the cities famous casinos.

Casino Lisboa Macau

A proper “casinos safari” should obviously start from the “Lisboa”, Macau’s iconic gambling house, which for many years was the only casino in the city, and has made a name for itself for its rowdiness, smoke-chocked rooms and promiscuous cabaret shows… Things look more “civilized” nowadays, but the Lisboa certainly retains some of its colonial-days charm…

Grand Lisboa

The Grand Lisboa occupies a gleaming 250 m lotus-shaped skyscraper, right in front of the good-old Lisboa, and while it lacks the ambience of its ‘older brother’, it more than makes up for it with a decent range of games (including Texas hold ’em), a fabulous buffet restaurant, and the famous ‘Crazy Paris Show’… This is also where you can see ‘The Star of Stanley Ho’: The world’s largest cushion-shaped internally flawless D-color diamond.

Wynn Macau

Still around the corner of the Lisboa, Steve Wynn’s Wynn Macau occupies a modern glass-clad monolith, with 100,000 square feet of casino space, and other than gambling you can enjoy a lovely Italian dinner at ‘Ristorante il Teatro’ and watch the famous Wynn Performance Fountain.

Sands Macau

Further up Avenida de Amizade, the colossal gold glass-clad facade of Sands Macau can be seen from every corner around that area. This huge casino used to hold the title of the “world’s largest casino” until the Venetian opened up, in 2007, but although it is no longer “the biggest”, it is certainly one of Macau’s most impressive gambling halls. One of its restaurants, 888 Gourmet Place, features what is possibly the best Las Vegas style buffet in Macau.

City of dreams

Recently opened City of Dreams is the hottest thing in Macau nowadays, and while the colossal casino is not as big as the one at the neighboring Venetian, it is properly geared for mid-range gamblers, which might make it more popular among the average tourist. In terms of entertainment, you should see their ‘Vquarium’ (virtual aquarium) and the ‘Dragon’s Treasure Show’.

The Venetian

And finally… The world’s largest casino: The Venetian. Nestled within the spectacular Venetian Macao Resort, the Venetian casino boasts a gambling space of almost 600,000 square feet, with 3,400 slot machines and 800 gambling tables, spread across four themed gaming areas. While there, you should make a point to hang around the Venice-themed ‘Grand Canal shoppes’, one of Macau’s most extravagant shopping and dining complexes.