The Ethics of Poker


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About the Book

Is it morally permissible to plunder a drunken player at the poker table? In a game of bluffing, are all deceits acceptable? Is it wrong to play against a pathological gambler? Are there any real right and wrongs within poker other than violations of the rules? The first of its kind, this book explores the moral dimensions of playing poker for money in a detailed discussion of applied ethics. Topics include the moral standing of bluffing, collusion versus “soft play,” the problem of players staked by backers, and “Why Kant Kan’t Play Poker.”

About the Author(s)

Todd M. Furman is a philosophy professor at McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana. He has also written introductory texts in philosophy and critical thinking, as well as a wide range of journal articles.

Bibliographic Details

Todd M. Furman

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 244
Bibliographic Info: glossary, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6461-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2785-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Introduction 1

Part I—Preemptive Problems
Chapter 1. Is There Honor Among Thieves?
1: Amorality or the Rule of Moral Law? 8
2: Lying Liars versus a Matter of Etiquette 10
3: Yes, Virginia, There Is Honor Among Thieves 14
Chapter 2. The Permissibility of Poker?
1: The Potential Problems 17
2: What Is a Lie? 17
3: Why Kant Kan’t Play Poker 19
4: Why the Rational Profiteer Can’t Play Poker 20
5: Poker and Its Harm to the Player 21
• Going Broke and Skill  21
• Character Assassination  29
6: Poker and Social Harms 37
7: A Raw Deal? 40
8: Parting Thoughts 42

Part II—Issues from the Table Top
Chapter 3. ­Peek-a-Boo, I See You!
1: Seymour 46
2: A Dealer’s Duties 49
3: Boudreaux and Thibodeaux 50
4: A Dealer’s Duty 2.0 52
5: A Dealer’s Duty 3.0 53
Chapter 4. What Is the Deal with the Drunk?
1: Wild Westin 54
2: In Defense of Drubbing the Drunk 56
3: Dealing with a Drunk 59
4: Dealers Dealing with Drunks 60
5: A Stagger of Drunks 60
6: Wake Up Little Susie, Wake Up 62
Chapter 5. Is It Okay to Feed Jane’s Addiction?
1: Jane’s Addiction 63
2: Playing on the People’s Dime 63
3: Can’t Say No 65
4: No, Jane, No! 66
5: The Complex Question of Playing with Jane 68
6: Pathological Gambling: Disease or Moral Weakness 72
• What Is the Big Deal?  72
7: A Dealer’s Duties 72
Chapter 6. The Bad Beat Jackpot
1: A Player Missing in Action 75
• Answering the Call of Nature  75
• The Peripatetic  80
2: A Vindictive Player 83
3: Thwarting a Vindictive Player 87
4: He Is No Einstein 89
5: My Bad, Your Bad 90
6: Do the Right Thing 98
7: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul 99
Chapter 7. A Hot Tip for You
1: Tightwads Need Not Play 103
2: Dealing with the Free Rider 106
3: A Tip Too Far 109
4: Mum’s the Word 111
Chapter 8. Fleeing the Scene of the Crime?
1: Adding Insult to Injury 113
2: Home Wreckers 116
3: Jackpot or Social Safety Net? 117
Chapter 9. Sharks in the Kiddie Pool
1: Benny the Bank 120
2: Bruce the Shark 122
3: Syrus the Suckerfish 124
4: Little Fish in a Big Pond 125
5: Immovable Object versus Irresistible Force 126
6: What Is the Deal with Andy Beal? 129
Chapter 10. The Serial Straddler, Malicious
Mucker, and Flash Gordon
1: The Serial Straddler 131
2: Flash Gordon 133
• Flashing Cards After the Showdown  134
• Flashing Cards in the Middle of the Hand to a Player Without Cards  134
• Flashing Cards in the Middle of the Hand to a Player Holding Cards  135
• The Unintentional Flashing of Cards  136
• Flashing Cards: A Summary  137
3: The Malicious Mucker 138
Chapter 11. The Dealer Did Me Wrong
1: Hypothetical Hyperbole 141
2: Making Matters Right 143
3: Making Matters Right, Further Thoughts 145
4: Little Susie Woke Up a Bit Too Late 146
Chapter 12. Tournament Troubles
1: Stake Me 148
2: You Stake Me, I’ll Stake You 149
3: Do You Want to Chop or Do You Want to Chop? 151
4: Give Me a (Good Table) Break 153

Part III—Duties of the House
Chapter 13. The Drunkard
1: Teetotaler by Force of Law 160
2: Paternalism? 161
3: A Compromise 164
4: Paternalism Revisited 166
Chapter 14. The Problem Gambler
1: The ATM 168
2: Credit 172
3: Check Cashing 174
4: The Credit Card Conundrum 176
Chapter 15. The Tax Man
1: Corporate Welfare? 178
2: Do Casinos Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes? 180
3: What Happened to the Panacea? 184
Chapter 16. Cashing Out
1: Conclusions Concerning Part I 186
2: Conclusions Concerning Part II 187
3: Conclusions Concerning Part III 191

Glossary of Terms 193
Appendix I—How to Play Texas Hold’em: The Basics for (Table Stakes) X-Y No-Limit 209
Appendix II—Ranking Hands Highest to Lowest 212
Chapter Notes 217
Bibliography 223
Index 227

Book Reviews & Awards

  • • “Furman provides a wide-ranging exploration of applied ethics in the world of poker…. This work acknowledges rule variance while offering a thoroughly readable moral discussion of behavior at the poker table and the world surrounding it…. Poker aficionados, general philosophy students, and gaming professionals will find much of value in this engaging, insightful work…. highly recommended”—Choice
  • • “The first book to address ethical conduct issues of the game…deftly explores the moral dimensions of playing poker for money in a detailed discussion of applied ethics. An inherently fascinating, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from cover to cover…a ‘must read’…. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented…unreservedly recommended”—Midwest Book Review
  • • “Considers ethical questions related to poker, beginning with the nature of poker and whether anything goes, as well as whether poker and gambling in general are inherently immortal”—ProtoView
  • • “Amazing insight…fascinating…a must book for the poker player”—M.G. Paregian

Author Interview

Review Fix chats with The Ethics of Poker author Todd Furman, who details the inspiration behind the book and what he’d like reads to take away from the experience.

Review Fix: What inspired this book?

Todd Furman: Mental illness; I kid, I kid, kind of. I am a philosopher by trade and I usually describe philosophers as people suffering from some sort of OCD –myself included. Most people think about philosophical questions now and again: What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? Is capital punishment morally permissible? etcetera. But then they move on to regular things such as deciding what to have for dinner or what movie to watch next. But not philosophers, they fixate and dwell on the former type of questions ad nauseam. So here I am playing 1/3 No Limit Texas Hold’em in a local casino when a drunk Texan joins the table. Instead of wondering how much money can be made off of the drunk like the other players are thinking, I’m asking myself whether it’s morally permissible to take advantage of the drunkard. And when I was thinking about this question it also occurred to me that there were countless other moral questions that arise in and surrounding the game of poker. And since I can’t let questions like these go, the book had to be written.

Review Fix: Why does Poker matter?

Furman: I find poker inherently interesting for numerous reasons and the world of poker is a microcosm of the world at large, replete with moral questions people usually pass over without notice. Hence, a book on the ethics of poker is a perfect vehicle to get people talking about issues, issues that have great import at the poker table and the world beyond the poker table.

Review Fix: Do you think films like Rounders and The World Series of Poker being televised have helped keep it sexy in pop culture?

Furman: I do think that television coverage of high-stakes cash games and mega tournaments such as the WSOP along with movies such as Molly’s Game and Rounders have helped keep poker in pop culture’s spotlight. That being said, the sex appeal of poker has faded a bit since its peak following Chris Moneymaker’s win in the 2003 main event of the WSOP. Moneymaker, an amateur poker player at the time, won his $10K seat in the WSOP main event by winning an online satellite event that cost him just $86 to enter. He then turned that opportunity into $2.5 million dollars by winning the main event. That gave every rank amateur hope that he or she could hit it big playing poker too. Hence, the poker craze was on for the next few years. But reality eventually came crashing down on most of the newbies. Consistently making money playing poker is tough. And as this realization has set in, the sex appeal for poker has dwindled some. We need another Chris Moneymaker to really spice things up again, but such a possibility is unlikely because poker is primarily a game of skill with an element of luck thrown in that keeps things interesting.

Review Fix: What was the initial goal of the book? Do you think you succeeded?

Furman: There were a couple of goals with the book. The first goal was to show that playing poker for money was replete with interesting moral questions. Second, I wanted to provide tentative answers to those questions; I wanted to get important conversations going. Reviewers have looked favorably on my efforts and have listed the book as “highly recommended” to a “must read,” so I must have been able to keep their attention throughout the project. And when I give lectures based on various case studies from the book, passionate discussions always ensue. So I think I can consider the project to have successfully accomplished its goals.

Review Fix: What was the research process like?

Furman: Although I have been playing live cash games and tournaments in casinos for some 15 years now, the research process was very educational. I learned a lot more about poker than I knew there was to know. Learning about the history of poker came straight from books. But my deeper understanding of many of the issues discussed in the book came through interviews of friends and acquaintances that I have acquired over the years while playing poker: a VP of Player Relations, poker-room managers, a cage manager, poker dealers, and several grinders (i.e., full-time players). The area I knew least about before writing concerned the economic impact of casinos and tax-related issues. There I did a bunch of reading but was still a bit unsure of myself to begin writing that section until I noticed one of the authors/economists I was reading was at a university just across the border so I looked up his university phone number and placed a call. The professor was very gracious and spent several hours talking me through the issues over the course of several phone calls. Oh, I can’t forget to mention that a colleague in the psychology department at my home university helped me a great deal concerning the nature of addiction and gambling addiction.

Review Fix: What has the reception been like so far?

Furman: Reviews have been very positive but sales have yet to catch up with the positive reviews. I think, however, the sales will come given more time. Poker players are not big readers (unless it’s a book telling them how to win more) and aren’t necessarily interested in being lectured –told that many of their standard practices aren’t on the moral up and up. In fact, one grinder posted a positive review of the book online but duly warned other players that they were likely to be morally chastised in the course of reading the book. On the other hand, persons on the other side of the felt –dealers, poker-room managers, and casino management — have felt that the book was very important as it highlighted several issues that the gaming industry needs to address with more rigor.

Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this book the most?

Furman: All those that are philosophically-minded should find the book very enjoyable even if they are not poker players; that would be all of those that enjoyed reading titles from Blackwell’s Philosophy and Pop Culture series or Open Court’s Popular Culture and Philosophy series (e.g., The Simpsons’ and Philosophy). And, as already mentioned, all of those in the gaming industry find the book informative and thought-provoking.

Review Fix: How do you want this book to be remembered?

Furman: The Ethics of Poker will be remembered as the first of its kind – the first title to investigate ethical issues in and surrounding the playing of poker. But I would like the book to be remembered as interesting, thought-provoking, and even-handed – giving both sides of each issue a fair shake.

Review Fix: What’s next?

Furman: I have so much on my plate right now it hard to know where to begin. I’m currently finishing an MA degree in psychology with an emphasis on Applied Behavior Analysis — the sort of therapy that rescued my son from the grips of autism. And I’m publishing journal articles in this area as I go. But my next book size project is probably the most important thing I may ever write. The tentative title is: Good Shoot, Bad Shoot? A Legal and Ethical Analysis of Shootings By Law Enforcement. This project is a couple of years away from completion but I expect it to cause a serious rethinking of the use of lethal force by civilians and/or law enforcement.

Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?

Furman: The Ethics of Poker is not just for poker players, it is for the inquisitive, especially those concerned with ethics and justice in general. To aid the non-poker player following along, there are two appendices. One explains the basics of Texas Hold’em and another explains the hand rankings –which hand beats the other. Finally, there is an extensive glossary of poker terms to translate poker lingo into ordinary English.