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Recreational drug use is a part of poker, both in cash games and poker tournaments. Many of us accept that as part of the poker lifestyle. However, as the game has evolved and grown, perhaps it is time to consider cleaning up the game a bit.

Tournament poker is the most visible form of poker in the world and some have argued that it is time to consider drug testing for all major poker tournaments. Especially now that the Global Poker League is trying to sportify the game, maybe it is time to clean up the game join the major sports leagues by conducting random drug testing.

Want to read the other side of the coin? Read Here: Keep Drug Testing out of Poker

Is It Really “Mostly Skill” If You Need Help?

Poker is a skill game. At least that is the dogma that we’re preached on a regular basis by those that support the game. Poker players use their brains and their natural talents to defeat their opponents and take their stacks.

While that’s what we like to believe, the truth is that some players are getting a bit of “help” when outwitting their opponents. Some players may smoke a bit of pot to help keep them from going on tilt while others may choose to take amphetamines in order to stay alert for the long shifts at the poker table.

If you have to take a substance to keep you going at the table, can you really claim that your performance is “mostly skill?” Would you be making the same decisions amped on amphetamines or would you decision-making be altered due to fatigue. Would that player in Seat 4 be putting you on tilt now had you not smoked a joint on break? They might be.

Can We “Sportify” Poker Without Drug Testing?

One huge question that has been posed already is whether the Global Poker League will be able to “sportify” poker without some form of random drug testing. With the amount of information already out there about substances that can enhance one’s game, at some point it seems logical that some fans are going to question whether players are on the same playing field or if some are getting some extra help.

Alex Dreyfus changed the dynamic of poker with the GPL. We can no longer use the “poker is not a sport” argument in the debate regarding drug testing. He is trying to make the game a sport, or at least an eSport and its logical to expect the players in the GPL to compete without the use of performance enhancers.

What happens if a team goes on to win a GPL title and we find out that half of the players were taking amphetamines or some decided to smoke a joint prior to each match in to take the edge off? Can we still argue that the outcome was 100% legitimate? How would such a revelation impact the GPL?

We’ve seen how drug scandals have impacted other sports and while poker isn’t Major League Baseball, if we want to “sportify” the game, shouldn’t we start by insisting the players compete clean?

Tournament Poker Will Never Break Through its Glass Ceiling Without Testing

While it is true that poker has come a long way in the years since the poker, it still has a bit of a stigma due to the lifestyle of most players. Many still view poker players as degenerate gamblers that like to go out and party and live the “degen lifestyle.”

Sadly, some players love to live up to that lifestyle and recreational drugs are just one part of that lifestyle. Knowing this, tournament poker is only going to progress so far in the public eye as long as we continue to let drugs remain a regular part of the game.

Going back to “sportifying poker,” will major sponsors get on board if they think they might be funding a future scandal? Major companies like Ford, Nike, Reebok and others don’t want to risk players showing up to an event high nor do they want to hear reports that players took down an even stoned. It might sound cute on the average poker media site, but that sort of thing doesn’t set well with investors.

As such, as long as we have drugs as an accepted part of the poker lifestyle, there will be a class ceiling on how far that poker can be promoted and sponsored. Want to break through that ceiling? Time to clean up the game.

Clearly Established Guidelines Would Be Needed

If professional poker were to establish some form of drug testing, a clearly defined set of guidelines would need to be in place and accepted by the majority of leagues. You really cannot have one standard for the WPT while the WSOP uses another and the GPL decides to use another.

Leagues need to band together to establish a clearly defined set of guidelines along with a list of banned substances that players are prohibited from using while competing in poker tournaments. Yes, we realize this opens up a Pandora’s Box of scenarios that would need to be answered. What happens in areas where Marijuana is legal or how about players that have a legal medical marijuana card? What about players that are legitimately prescribed certain drugs that may be on the list of banned substances. Will they be banned from playing or will they be granted an exception.

Next, how about certain substances that aren’t illegal but we know can enhance performance. Energy drinks are a prime example. Do we ban energy drinks or do we make an exception. With that said, what about something as simple as a soda? For some people, a soda can give them the same rush as a Five Hour Energy.

How Do You Punish Poker Players?   

Now comes the dicey part of the matter, the part of enacting punishment on the players that violate a league’s drug policy. How do you punish poker players and will the punishment really matter?

Do you ban a player for a particular number of tournaments? Maybe you kick them out for the season. However, since there is another tournament just around the corner, does this really do anything to punish players?

Yes, you could ban a player from the WSOP and keep them from winning a bracelet, but there are plenty of players out there that could care less about the bracelet. So what does one do?

One might argue that you fine a poker player. However, how do you enforce said fine? Poker players actually pay to play with the only current exception being the GPL. Can a casino legally force a player to pay a fine? Yes, maybe they will be banned from that casino if they don’t pay the fine, but there are plenty of venues out there to play poker.

About the only punishment that would even be remotely viable for such a situation would be a blanket ban for a set period from the tournament circuit. For example, on the second violation of the drug policy, a player is banned from all WPT, EPT, WSOP and another other events worldwide that conduct drug testing.

Even then, a player could always just take their bankroll to a venue that doesn’t practice drug testing, focus on cash games for a while, or go back to playing online poker (for those outside the U.S.)

The Price of Poker Will Go Up With Drug Testing

One thing we can almost guarantee is that the cost of poker will go up if the various leagues start conducting drug testing for major tournaments. Whether that cost is an extra fee to each player or taking a larger portion of the prize pool to cover drug-testing expenses, it will end up costing players over the long haul.

However, such an expense may be looked at as a blessing in disguise by those wanting to clean up the game. While drug and alcohol use has always been seen as part of the poker landscape, one cannot legitimately argue that said drug use doesn’t impact the game.

We all love to play against drunks that donk off their money to us and they’re usually tolerated. At the same time, how many of us would continue playing in a game where we knew that players were using drugs or other substances to keep an edge over us? If we want to keep tournament poker on an even playing field, drug testing should be enacted.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.

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