Poker Players With Experience and Skill Are Not ‘‘Ill’’: Exposing a Discrepancy in Measures of Problem Gambling


  • Michael Laakasuo University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Cognitive Science unit
  • Jussi Palomäki University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Cognitive Science unit
  • Mikko Salmela Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies


Many studies suggest that in poker, amount of money wagered and time spent playing are prominent predictors of problem gambling. These observations are in discord with anecdotal and empirical evidence. Due to the skill component inherent in poker, active players who play for long hours attempting to make a profit—sometimes by wagering large amounts of money—might be labeled as problem gamblers despite having high levels of well-being and financial stability. In three online correlative studies, we assessed the associations between poker experience, problem gambling (as indicated by the South Oaks Gambling Screen [SOGS] and the Problem Gambling Severity Index [PGSI]) and various measures of social and emotional well-being, self-control and emotion regulation. Problem gambling severity predicts reduced well-being and self-control, increased social anomie, and detrimental emotion regulation. Experienced poker players exhibited high problem gambling severity, but none of the adverse consequences thereof. Thus, a discrepancy was exposed concerning the validity of SOGS and PGSI. We conclude that these measures may not be valid in assessing problematic/detrimental gambling in poker-playing populations, especially in the case of experienced players, who play for long hours in order to make money. The concepts of problem gambling and poker experience should be disentangled.


Author Biographies

Michael Laakasuo, University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Cognitive Science unit

Michael Laakasuo has conducted research on various topics, and collaborated with research teams evaluating the underpinnings of emotions and decision making from psychological and sociological perspectives.

Jussi Palomäki, University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Cognitive Science unit

Jussi Palomäki is Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioral Sciences, Cognitive Science Unit. His primary research interest involves understanding the underpinnings of emotion-driven decision making – particularly as seen in tilting behavior during poker play. He will defend his doctoral thesis about this topic on November 29, 2013.

Mikko Salmela, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies

Mikko Salmela, D.Soc.Sci. (University of Helsinki, 1998), is an Academy Research Fellow at Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and a member of Finnish Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of Social Sciences. Salmela is specialized in theoretical and applied philosophy of emotions from an interdisciplinarily informed perspective.


Angelo, T. (2007). Elements of poker. Self-published.

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The “reading the mind in the eyes” test revised version: A study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome orhigh-functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42(2), 241-251.

Bjerg, O. (2010). Problem gambling in poker: Money, rationality and control in a skill-based social game. International Gambling Studies, 10(3), 239–254.

Bjerg, O. (2011). Poker: The parody of capitalism. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Bergh, C., & Kühlhorn, E. (1994). Social, psychological and physical consequences of pathological gambling in Sweden. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10(3), 275–285.

Caruana, A., Ramaseshan, B., & Ewing, M. T. (2000). The effect of anomie on academic dishonesty among university students. International Journal of Educational Management, 14(1), 23–30.

Diener, E., Emmons, R.A., Larson, R.J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71–75.

Emond, M. S., & Marmurek, H. H. (2010). Gambling related cognitions mediate the association between thinking style and problem gambling severity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26(2), 257–267.

Elliott, I., & Coker, S. (2008). Independent self-construal, self-reflection, and self-rumination: A path model for predicting happiness. Australian Journal of Psychology, 60(3), 127–134.

Fenigstein, A., Scheier, M.F., & Buss, A. (1975). Public and private self-consciousness. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43(4), 522–527.

Ferentzy, P., & Turner, N.E. (2013). The history of problem gambling: Temperance, substance abuse,medicine, and metaphors. New York: Springer New York.

Ferris, J., & Wynne, H. (2001). The Canadian problem gambling index: Final report. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Griffiths, M., Parke, J., Wood, R., & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8(1), 82–89.

Keyes, C. L. M (1995). The social side of psychological well-being. (Doctoral dissertation). Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Keyes, C. L. M., & Shapiro, A. D. (2004). Social well-being in the United States: A descriptive epidemiology. In O. G. Brim, C. D. Ryff & R. C. Kessler (Eds.), How healthy are we?: A national study of well-being at midlife. (pp. 350–372). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Keys, C. (1998). Social Well-being. Social Psychology Quarterly, 61(2), 121–140.

King, D., Delfabbro, P., & Griffiths, M. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26(2), 175–187.

Langer, E. J. (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of personality and social psychology, 32(2), 311–328.

Lesieur, H.R., & Blume, S.B. (1987). The South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS): A new instrument for the identification of pathological gamblers. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 144(9), 1184–1188.

MacKay, T-L., & Hodgins, D.C. (2012). Cognitive distortions as a problem gambling risk factor in Internet gambling. International Gambling Studies, 12(2), 163–175.

Matthews, G., & Deary, I. J. (1998). Personality traits. New York: Cambridge University Press.

McBride, J., & Derevensky, J. (2009). Internet gambling behavior in a sample of online gamblers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7(1), 149–167.

McCormack, A., & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). What differentiates professional poker players from recreational poker players? A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10(2), 243–257.

McCormack, A., Shorter, G.W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). An examination of participation in online gambling activities and the relationship with problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(1), 31–41.

McManus, J. (2009). Cowboys full: The story of poker. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Messick, D. M., & McClintock, C. G. (1968). Motivational bases of choice in experimental games. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 4, 1–25.

O’Leary, K., & Carroll, C. (2012). The online poker sub-culture: Dialogues, interactions and networks. Journal of Gambling Studies. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10899-012-9326-9.

Orford, J., Wardle, H., Griffiths, M., Sproston, K., & Erens, B. (2010). PGSI and DSM-IV in the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey: Reliability, item response, factor structure and inter-scale agreement. International Gambling Studies, 10(1), 31–44.

Palomäki, J., Laakasuo, M., & Salmela, M. (2012): Losing more by losing it: Poker experience, sensitivity to losses and tilting severity. Journal of Gambling Studies. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10899-012-9339-4.

Palomäki, J., Laakasuo, M., & Salmela, M. (2013a): "This is just so unfair!": A qualitative analysis of loss-induced emotions and tilting in on-line poker. International Gambling Studies, 13(2), 255–270.

Palomäki, J., Laakasuo, M., & Salmela, M. (2013b): “Don't worry, it's just poker!” -Experience, self-rumination and self-reflection as determinants of decision-making in on-line poker. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29(3), 491–505.

Pavot, W. & Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction with Life Scale. Psychological Assessment, 5, 164-172.

Petry, N.M. (2010). Pathological gambling and the DSM-V. International Gambling Studies, 10(2), 113–115.

Petry, N. M. (2006). Should the scope of addictive behaviors be broadened to include pathological gambling? Addiction, 101(1), 152-160.

Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 167–177.

Seeman, M. (1991). Alienation and Anomie. In J.P. Robinson, P.R. Shaver, L.S. Wrightsman (Eds.), Measures of Personality and Social Psychological Attitudes (pp. 291–371). New York: Academic.

Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., et al. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(4), 570–585.

Snyder, C. R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York: Free Press.

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249–275.

Srole, L. (1956). Social integration and certain corollaries: An exploratory study. American sociological review, 21(6), 709–716.

Tangney, J.P., Baumeister, R.F., & Boone, A.L. (2004). High Self-Control Predicts GoodAdjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades, and Interpersonal Success. Journal of Personality, 72(2), 271–324.

Tendler, J. (2011). The mental game of poker: Proven strategies for improving tilt control, confidence, motivation, coping with variance, and more. Self-published.

Tendler, J. (2013). The mental game of poker 2: Proven strategies for improving poker skill, increasing mental performance, and playing in the zone consistently. Self-published.

Travis, R. (1993). The MOS alienation scale: An alternative to Srole's anomia scale. Social Indicators Research, 28(1), 71–91.

Trapnell, P.D., & Campbell, J.D. (1999). Private self-consciousness and the five-factor model of personality: Distinguishing rumination from reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 284–304.

Trevorrow, K., & Moore, S. (1998). The association between loneliness, social isolation and women's electronic gaming machine gambling. Journal of gambling studies, 14(3), 263–284.

Van Lange, P. A. M., De Bruin, E. M. N., Otten, W., & Joireman, J. A. (1997). Development of prosocial, individualistic, and competitive orientations: Theory and preliminary evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(4), 733–746.

Weinstock, J., Massura, C.E., & Petry, N.M. (2013). Professional and pathological gamblers: Similarities and differences. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29(2), 205–216.