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December 19, 2007

Can poker help students ace math?

Is poker an ingenious way to teach math or a slippery slope to gambling addiction?

A recent New York Times article tells of a group that has taken up the question.

A Harvard Law School professor and a group of his students formed an organization this fall — the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society — dedicated to demonstrating that poker has educational benefits. They argue that the game, which is probability-based and requires risk assessment, situational analysis and a gift for reading people, can be an effective teaching tool, whether for middle school math or in business and law classes.

But Chad Hills, a gambling analyst for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit religious group, questions the idea. According to the NYT article:

"Kids are extremely vulnerable to gambling addiction,” said Hills, who likened poker to a “gateway drug” that leads to the harder stuff like craps and slot machines.

What do you think --- is this idea worth a gamble?

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends


About 25 years ago, I worked in a restaurant/bar/card room in California. Poker was legal in California because it was considered a game of skill, as opposed to a game of chance.

The card room attracted a motley crew of employees and customers. The dealers were usually tipped by the customers and could make good money. At least one of the dealers was on the lam from an ex-wife looking for child support or alimony; this guy only reported his minimum wage salary in order to avoid anteing up the money he owed his ex-wife.

One afternoon, I came into to work and there was a van parked in the parking lot with 2 dogs in it. It was still there when I got off work and still there when I came back to work the next afternoon. The owner was still inside playing cards. Presumably, he took care of the dogs in between hands...

The manager of the card room believed that gamblers were the salt of the earth. He claimed you could leave your money on the table, come back later and it would still be there. He said you couldn't do that in church - somebody would take your money!

The folks there were nice but the lifestyle really didn't lend itself to encouraging a wholesome, family atmosphere. While it's true gamblers gamble all day long, from dinner time into the wee hours seemed to be the preferred times to play cards. There also seemed to be a lot of drinking problems among the staff and casual drug use. There was also a big affinity for Las Vegas among the employees and customers who frequented the card room. One contest sponsored by the restaurant's owners featured a grand prize of a trip to Las Vegas.

So, I'd probably have to agree that having a university teach poker does legitimize gambling. For immature and impressionable students, they may be better off signing up for billiards or bowling.

Of course it's worth the gamble, especially if they work to teach risk assessment.

Kids are extremely vulnerable to shooting themselves with loaded guns, too, but one who's grown up with teaching and respect for the weapon is far less likely to do so.

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