A sport is a fair contest of skill with clearly defined rules that's played for entertainment. There are physical sports like football or golf, and mind sports like chess or eSports competitions. But where does gambling fit in? Is gambling a sport?
What Makes a Gambling Game a Sport?
What makes a sport a sport? Some people think only athletic activities can be considered sport, but this is a very limited view. The International Olympic Committee recognizes chess as a sport, so it's not hard to see how other non-athletic activities could also be considered a sport.
They may not involve much physical exertion, but they are competitions based on intellectual ability rather than athletic ability. They are fair contests of skill with clearly defined rules that are played for entertainment, and so they can be considered "mind sports". When it comes to scoring, sports betting payouts should also be considered. Punters tend to compete with one another based on the returns they get from their wagers.
Mind sports exclude anything that has no skill element, because it's not really a contest if the outcome is random. There may be some random element, but there needs to be a fair contest of skill involved too.
A board game like Chutes & Ladders is not a mind sport, but backgammon is, even though chance plays a role in both. There is skill in backgammon but only luck in Chutes & Ladders.
So when it comes to gambling, some games will qualify as mind sports and some won't. Let's take a look.
When is a Gambling Game Not a Sport?
Most gambling games - think roulette, lotteries and scratch-cards - involve no strategy or skill element. They are games of pure chance, or luck. Luck-based gambling games have rules, but they aren't contests of skill. This means they can't be considered sports.
Additionally, the vast majority of gambling games are played against the house. They are not fair contests because the house always has a mathematical edge. You just cannot beat the house over the long term unless you cheat or the casino hasn't set up the game properly.
Blackjack and poker both have official Halls of Fame celebrating their most important and successful players - but there's no official Hall of Fame for games like roulette or bingo. You can't study and practice with the aim of eventually mastering these games like with poker and blackjack. That doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile entertainment - just that they aren't a fair contest of skill and so they can't be considered a sport.
Gambling Games That Are Considered Mind Sports
Many types of gambling are pure chance but there are some that clearly have a skill element as well. Earlier, we said that a sport is defined as a fair contest of skill with clearly defined rules that's played for entertainment.
Let's look at whether poker, blackjack and craps can be considered sports by that definition.
Is poker a sport? It's a game of chance and skill. Over the short term, chance plays a big role. But over the long term, a skillful player will always win. Every player has the same chance of getting good cards and so the only edge any player has over another in the long run is their poker skills.
Poker is a fair contest of skill with clearly defined rules that's played for entertainment. Yes, there's an element of luck - but that's true about many sports, where the smallest margins can make a massive difference.
In athletic sports, you often hear people talk about players being unlucky when they miss a shot or get penalized by the referee. There's no escaping the role of chance plays in every aspect of our lives.
The fact that televised competitive poker is so successful is another reason to consider poker a type of sport. People enjoy watching poker players battle it out - that wouldn't be the case unless it was a fair contest of skill. After all, nobody watches other people play roulette for hours on end!
If chess is a sport, there really is no reason not to consider poker as a sport as well.
Like poker, blackjack is a game of chance and skill. However, there is more chance and less skill involved. And you don't play Blackjack against other players, only the dealer - but that is still a contest!
The game of blackjack has been solved, but even if you play the perfect basic strategy the casino will still have an edge of around 0.5%. That's where card counting comes in - a skilled card counter can change the 0.5% casino edge to a 1% edge in their favor.
Unfortunately, casinos aren't interested in a fair contest, so they do everything they can to stop card counting. They use multiple decks to make counting harder, continually shuffle to make it impossible, force you to stick to one bet size - and they'll kick you out if they think you're winning too much!
Is Blackjack a sport? It's arguable either way, but one thing's for sure - it's one you'll always lose unless you're card counting!
This one is a little controversial. Most people do not consider craps a game of skill. Dice are random number generators, after all. However, craps is unique in that it is the gambler who rolls the dice rather than a dealer.
Some players believe it is possible to control the way you throw the dice and therefore influence the way they fall. This is known as "dice control" or "dice setting". This would be tough to pull off on a flat surface - but casinos make it even harder by requiring the dice hit the back wall of the craps table, which is covered in rubber pyramids.
If the shooter can control the way the dice roll, then the game of craps becomes a lot more like sports such as bowling or darts. Legendary gambling expert Stanford Wong is a believer in dice control and even wrote a book about it - so the idea that craps is a sport is not a completely crazy theory!
Is gambling a sport? Some people think sports only include athletic activities - but if the Olympic Committee consider chess to be a sport, there's no reason skill-based gambling games like poker aren't sports too!
This article was published on April 23, 2021, and last updated on June 23, 2022.