The need to quantify entertainment value of poker for poker's survival [long]
The entertainment value of poker is extremely important because it creates an ethical way for poker to exist as a viable entity. Poker would not be played unless there were losing players, because without losing players, profitable players cannot make a profit, and everybody quits playing. A losing player needs a reason to continue playing despite losses, and I can think of only four reasons: hope for improvement, lack of understanding, gambling addiction, and entertainment value. Here's a look at all four:
(1) Hope for improvement leads to study and effort that either results in improvement or not. In the former case, the player eventually ceases to be a losing player and becomes a profitable player; and in the latter case, the player remains a losing player and, if she is rational, eventually stops playing. Thus the initial pool of losing players hoping for improvement naturally decreases over time. It can be augmented by new players beginning to play poker for the first time; but the population of losing players who improve to become profitable players increases the total number of profitable players, thus requiring the number of new losing players to increase to a greater degree over time, until it becomes impossible for enough new players to begin playing for the first time without exceeding the potential new player population. This is exacerbated by the fact that, except in the case of problem gamblers, losing players must significantly outnumber profitable players in order to enable the profitable players to make sufficient profit in order for them to bother continuing to play, and while the increase in profitable players can be minor, the corresponding increase in losing players must be much greater. For every new profitable player, you might, for example, need six new losing players--actually seven if the profitable player was a losing player before becoming profitable; but for every two profitable players, you need twelve new losing players, or fourteen if both of the former used to be losing players. So hope for improvement among losing players has a date of death in terms of its ability to sustain poker as an ongoing activity.
2) Lack of understanding of poker is the most common and possibly, in a way, the only reason a player is a losing player. Various factors related to losses, such as improper bankroll management and limit selection, poor hand ranges, poor bet choices, first-level thinking, poor tilt management, and even lack of the experience required to make rapid poker decisions intuitively can be ascribed to lack of understanding of poker (although the latter is debatable). But lack of understanding either decreases with experience or does not. In the former case, gaining understanding eventually leads a player to become profitable; and in the latter case, the player eventually loses so much money that, if she is rational, she quits playing. So the situation is the same as with hope for improvement: an increasing number of players ignorant about poker is required, and this source of poker's sustainability also has a date of death.
3) Problem gambling is an infinitely renewable source of poker losses and therefore the strongest factor in the sustainability of gaming, both as an ongoing social practice and as a business venture. Problem gamblers generally do not gamble rationally and continue gambling until they literally have no more money left to gamble with. In many cases, they recover to acquire additional sources of money, and the cycle starts again. The population of problem gamblers does not need to be increased on its own basis in order for it to sustain poker as an ongoing activity or business, because problem gamblers nearly always come back to play once they have the money again. Even if they receive treatment, relapse is a lifelong possibility and frequently occurs, and a problem gambler generally never becomes a profitable player. Every problem gambler who permanently stops gambling can be replaced by only a single other problem gambler. In addition, the unusually heavy poker investment by problem gamblers makes the number of problem gamblers needed to sustain the profitability of one profitable player much smaller than in the case of losing players who are not problem gamblers. Casinos
offering negative expectation games such as blackjack
appear to be aware of this and to rely on problem gambler losses as their sole source of true profit, appearing to use the entertainment value of their venues in order to draw casual players and non-players to the casino in order to turn them into problem gamblers. In the Province of Ontario, where the provincial government founded all of the province's currently operating major for-profit and charity casinos starting in 1996 and remains a profit-taking investor, research shows that 65% of casino profits come from losses by problem gamblers. It is likely that the figure is similar in every casino around the world or the casino would not stay in business. So not only novelty game perpetuation but the continued existence of poker as a viable endeavour is ensured by the continued existence and mere replacement of existing problem gamblers. But the ethical issues associated with this approach are fairly extreme and don't need elaboration to anyone except idiots and heartless crooks. Since I have no interest in talking to those two populations, I'm going to assume that thinking people with some smidgen of humanity would rather avoid enabling themselves to continue to play poker profitably on the backs of problem gamblers, and proceed to seek an alternative.
4) Entertainment value is the true alternative to problem gambling as a perpetuator of poker's viability--and, indeed, of all gambling business activity. Entertainment value can compensate a losing player for losses and enable them to continue playing indefinitely in a moderate, prudent and non-problem-gambling way. If going to the bar for some beers costs $50 a night, and a losing player can spend one week playing poker online before losing $50, which is the better entertainment choice? In order for it to be a sensible choice, however, entertainment value must be quanitfied and, if possible, monetized. The losing player must have solid reason to believe that she is indeed getting at least $50 in value from her week of play. Some such players will get only $40 in value and can reduce their poker investment to $40 a week, and it's better for the profitable player to make $80 over two weeks than to make $50 in one week and then have the losing player quit and stop being a source of profit. If the losing player is getting $60 worth of entertainment value from poker, however, then she might be in a position, depending on her finances, to increase her weekly poker investment to $60, giving the profitable player an extra $10 in profit each week on an ongoing basis. In addition, regardless of monetization, entertainment value can be quantified to factor into such concepts as pot odds
, equity and hand ranges, so that a play that is -EV for a profitable player is rendered +EV for the losing player by the factoring in of entertainment value. Such altered play would organically lead to losses by the losing player and corresponding profits by the winning player, but it would also increase the entertainment value of poker for the losing player, who isn't making a profit anyway and has only entertainment value to derive benefit from. It would be totally a win-win to quantify and monetize poker entertainment value in all ways conceivable and write extensive books on how a losing player can responsibly continue to play poker while remaining a losing player. But, as far as I can tell, nobody in poker has even thought about these concepts, and those to whom I've mentioned them have rejected them out of hand.
The reason why the poker industry cannot address these kinds of issues is the nature of poker professionals, both players and other associated professionals--who almost always started off their careers as profitable poker players; hence essentially all are profitable poker players or used to be profitable poker players until they moved on to other jobs in poker. Such people have a blind spot for anything other than profit and seem unable to form a concept of poker losses on an ongoing basis as an acceptable alternative. For active profitable players, this could very well be a psychological requirement in order for them to be able to remain profitable players; no research whatsoever has been done on this question, so I don't know. But other poker industry professionals who aren't active players could perhaps be persuaded to take a look at the concepts I've presented here and the issues I've discussed and, just maybe, do something about them. I lack the expertise to take these issues any farther and must leave it in their hands. Either they choose to save the future of poker, or, at some point in the future, the poker industry will die with a whimper. I am, of course, assuming the ethical advancement of our species, because it's entirely possible that both poker and gaming in general will continue to feast off the misery of problem gamblers forever, gradually demoralizing and alienating all genuinely human beings formerly involved with them, until only worthless scum operate and work for casinos and are profitable poker players, turning both general gaming and the poker world into hell on earth. People can decide for themselves which of these two alternatives would be less hideous.