Why isn’t poker more like bingo?

As I’ve mentioned here a few times before, I like to play poker and I’m probably above average as I turn a small profit – not anywhere near enough to live on, but enough to have fun with online. Some of my friends like to play bingo – it’s not something I enjoy, but they seem to have a fun night out playing it.

Beyond the levels of fun different people can get from them, there are two main differences between poker and bingo. The first is that in poker it’s possible for a skilled player to make a long-term profit playing it, while the same can’t be said of bingo – sure, it’s possible to make a profit playing it, and I’m sure there are some people out there who have won more than they’ve lost over the years, but unless you posit a ridiculous level of skill difference (playing only with people who can’t cross off numbers on their card) the expected value of playing bingo is negative.

(That’s not to say that there’s no skill or gambling in poker, of course, but in the long run skill will usually win out over luck – possibly something for another post though, to avoid this one getting sidetracked)

The second difference is that I could head in Colchester town centre now and and go straight into our local bingo club and start playing. The same’s probably true of the town you’re in now – assuming you’re in Britain – but there are only a small number of places where I could go and legally play poker in the same way. Of course, if I really wanted to lose some money, I could go into any one of the number of amusement arcades in most towns, or play the slot machines in various pubs, clubs and chip shops or just wander into one of my several local bookies and play on the machines there. (Though I could also make a regular bet there, and it is possible to make a long term profit betting)

So, the Gambling Act and various other pieces of legislation over the years have made it much easier for me to take part in games with a negative expected value to me, so why is it so hard for me to play a game with a possible positive return? Why isn’t it easier it set up poker clubs in the same way as bingo ones?

At present, the options are to either set up a private members club (The International, for example) or offer poker games under a casino license which means either opening a casino and hoping the demand for negative expected value games hasn’t died off or jumping through all the hoops needed to open a run and casino and then only offer poker at the end of it (as Dusk Till Dawn did, going through several months and several million pounds in the process). I’m not arguing for every vacant shopfront in Britain to be turned into a poker club, just that it be possible to open one so people can have the option – after all, when we have bingo clubs and slot machines everywhere, why should it be so hard to open a club for a game that’s got some skill involved?

2 thoughts on “Why isn’t poker more like bingo?”

  1. Isn’t it precisely because it has some skill involved that the numbers who want to play it regularly aren’t enough to sustain clubs? Poker is after all a zero-sum game, and so good players who ‘tend to win’ need to find people who like playing and normally lose. And there aren’t many of those.

    On the other hand fruit machines are popular, and they are sure-fire losers over time. So perhaps its because in poker house profits aren’t very high per player and per hour?

  2. After spending several years in the casino business you begin to see the difference between the ‘hard gamers’, and ‘soft gamers’. Soft games are those that have an element of skill, Hard games are those of pure chance.

    The easiest way for a casino to make money is to slightly stack the odds in their favour and then to ensure that clients gamble as much as possible (more BJ hands, more spins of the wheel), hard gamers like this, they want instant gratfication. Soft gamers on the other hand are willing to take their time and are enjoying the whole experience of playing a card game. Over time some poker games have been designed to be quicker, but people are still into the long haul , they want time to analyse and develop a strategy.

    Most large/medium sized UK Casinos have some sort of soft gaming area to encourage numbers and also hope that the pot winners will enjoy a real gamble at the end of the night!

    I’d try Luton if I were you Nick, or maybe Southend. For real action try the Barracuda in London, people do go just to watch if you want to do a recce first!

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