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There has been a lot of talk lately about sportifying poker. The Global Poker League’s parent company, Mediarex Sports and Entertainment, even declares it in its motto: We sportify poker.

It has long been a topic of debate in the poker world, but whether or not poker is or becomes a sport, it will remain different from most sports in a number of significant ways. One of those ways is the regulation of players’ drug use.

Want to read the other side of the coin? Read Here: It’s Time for Major Poker Leagues to Enact Random Drug Testing

Drug Testing in Sports

Over the past decade, drug testing of athletes in various sports has become commonplace. Due to the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs used by athletes in games ranging from college sports teams to the Olympics, many organizations and schools have begun to require testing for those drugs. Legal challenges regarding the constitutionality of such actions mostly fail with regard to private organizations, including major sports leagues like Major League Baseball.

Since testing began, many major sports figures have been ejected from competitions and even the sports altogether. Reputations have been ruined, and top honors and records have been taken away, sometimes even removed from historical records altogether.

Many Differences for Poker

There are many ways that poker players can create an edge over the competition. Those who exercise and lead a generally healthier lifestyle tend to have more stamina, clearer heads, and made better decisions at the table. Often times, refraining from caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are also benefit a player’s game.

Illegal substances, however, are often used by players, whether the edge is an actual or perceived one. Marijuana is a very common drug used among players, though there is much debate about its legality. But amphetamines, cocaine, and Adderall are also thought to give some players an edge, as they are able to stay awake through longer poker sessions, stave off hyperactive behaviors, and even be more focused. These drugs are a reality in today’s poker world.

Testing for these types of drugs is quite unrealistic for poker leagues and organizations to even consider. Poker players thrive on and value their freedoms, so even talk of a dress code for final tables creates quite the commotion. And the recent announcement of the World Series of Poker to start some of its summer tournaments at 11am instead of noon brought such bitterness from the reigning WSOP Main Event champion and others that complaints are still filing in.

When poker players put up their own money to play, pay tournament fees, and provide their own transportation and accommodations, they expect a certain amount of freedom. Monitoring what they put in their bodies would be a giant step too far for many of them, and they would likely resort to cash games or leave the game altogether.

Further, if drugs were outlawed in poker tournaments, a significant portion of today’s top players may be disqualified from participating. The game cannot afford to lose even more players than it did after Black Friday put a cruel halt to the poker boom.

Not so Epic Standards and Conduct

When the Epic Poker League launched, part of its goal was to set it apart from other poker tournaments by making the events more elite. Players meeting the criteria to play were offered freerolls, provided transportation and accommodations, and treated to numerous perks. For those privileges, players were held to account for many of their actions as ruled upon by the Standards & Conduct Committee. It was controversial when the committee put Chino Rheem on probation for outstanding debts to fellow poker players, as well as when it stepped in to stop a registered sex offender from playing a satellite.

Ultimately, the company went bankrupt, leaving most employees and contractors without payment, and rendered the point of the Standards & Conduct Committee utterly and ironically moot.

Should the Global Poker League attempt to establish a similar type of standards committee, most of the players in the GPL would likely suffer through it. But any committee that might attempt to implement a drug testing regimen would fail. Players would revolt, and the game would suffer its biggest loss of players since Black Friday.

Sportifying poker is one thing, but holding players to the standards of professional athletes is an entirely different beast. And that beast could bring down the entire poker industry.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.