The Casino Experience: Why Sports Pros Play Poker

Published 04/12/2018, 4:49 AM EDT

The majority of athletes enjoy playing a game of poker in their free time. Others, however, decide to take up professional poker after they retire. Shane Warne for instance, a former Australian international cricketer, decided to dedicate his time to professional poker after his career ended and frequented the best casinos.

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A number of these sports and poker pros even put their skills to good use by playing at various charity events hosted by non-profit organizations such as WPT (World Poker Tour):

“World Poker Tour®has a decade-long commitment to supporting philanthropy by helping to bring together many of the world’s best poker professionals and world’s biggest celebrities, sports figures and music entertainers to support non-profit programs of excellence.”

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The first question we might be pondering, however, is: Why poker?

Well, our first guess would undoubtedly be because of the unique casino experience; the luxury, the energy, the lights, the music, the thrill – everything you find in a casino.

This alone makes it reasonable for any celebrity living the high life to enjoy spending their time in a luxury casino in Las Vegas, and let’s face it, it’s probably a dream most of us have too. However, thankfully, we can still come close to replicating this experience thanks to the evolution of live casinos.

Although currently, casinos offer Texas Hold’em bonus, which is not exactly real live poker, last month, Evolution Gaming, a leading provider of Live Casino solutions, launched the world’s first and only online Live Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker, complete with a unique ‘First Five’ Progressive Jackpot starting at €50,000.

Even celebs will be flocking to play this live online game, especially since most of them are ambassadors of leading casinos in the industry like PokerStars, and it is almost impossible for this to change.

For various reasons, sports pros can’t get enough of this classic game, and while we might be asking how these professional athletes go from an intense physical activity to a mental one, there might just be an underlying connection between sports and poker that we might not readily see.

Let’s have a look at what some of them have said about playing poker:

Shane Warne

Although the nature of the game is fairly different from the active life of a sports athlete, Warne claims that it is the competitive nature of at the poker table as well as the combination of other elements such as strategy and calling a player’s bluff, that instills incredible excitement in players.

For some players, the allure is in the sense that poker is a game of skill and luck, and thus, as The Gambling Commission states, “the chances of winning are equally favourable to all participants”.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Undeniably one of the most famous celebrities on the planet, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo has claimed poker ‘provides him with a thrill’. In 2015, he became an ambassador for PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker room and the “best place to play poker” according to Casinos.co.

In an interview with PokerListings, the Portuguese footballer explained why he enjoys playing the game so much:

“I love to play poker. It’s a fantastic game to play with friends, with family, with everyone. I love the competition, strategy and fun. I’m looking forward to taking my game to the online and live poker tables and meeting my fans head to head. Although football is my world, poker has always been my game.”

Richard Seymour

Former NFL player Richard Seymour of the New England Patriots has played in several Super Bowls and Pro Bowls matches. During his childhood, Seymour was introduced to poker by his dad, then played on tour with his NFL teammates.

Just like Warne and De Melo, Seymour states that poker is all about the competition and not the money – it’s the fact that it is a level playing field, and that athletes are driven by their love to compete.

Fatima Moreira de Melo

Hockey sensation and winner of the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, Fatima Moreira de Melo has won $525,876 in live tournament earnings ever since she’s retired from playing hockey. She’s also been sponsored to play poker professionally, and although she’s never had any major winnings, last year she claimed the No. 1 spot at the 2017 Pokerstars Championship Bahamas.

According to The Week magazine, for De Melo, poker fuels her competitive nature: “Poker fills the gap of performing at a high level with pressure. I’m competitive, I like that pressure. Competing at the highest level of poker fulfills a need of mine.”

Kyran Bracken

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Retired Rugby World Cup winner Kyran Bracken also thinks playing poker is a good idea. In an interview with SportsMole at the PokerStars Lads Night In, a charity initiative which raises money and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK, Bracken shared his personal thoughts about poker:

“I just think it’s a really good idea. Now that I’m a married man and don’t get out that much it’s quite nice to harp back to the old days where you can play a bit of poker with your mates. I used to have a man cave at the end of my garden where we’d play cards once a week.”

Being a strong charity advocate himself, the Irish player also expressed his views on the importance of fundraising initiatives, and how so much good can come out of a good old fun game:

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“Prostate Cancer will affect a lot of people, no matter who you are. I’ve had someone in the family who’s had it, so it’s important to raise some money, raise awareness and have some fun as well.”

So there you have it, these are some of the top reasons why sports pros play poker! Whether it’s a way to pass the time, enjoy a good game night with family or friends, compete with other top players, or raise money for a cause, or altogether, poker seems to be the right fit for these athletes who are as passionate about the game as they are about their careers.

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Dhruv George

13091 articles

Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

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