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PokerNews Debate: Is Prop Betting Good for Poker?

Ashton Griffin

Prop betting and poker are far from mutually exclusive. Every year, the World Series of Poker is fueled by prop bets, and last week Ashton Griffin won $300,000 for running 70 miles in a 24-hour span. Griffin's feat sparked a debate in the poker community about whether or not high-stakes prop betting is good for the poker industry. PokerNews' own Donnie Peters and Rich Ryan decided to tackle the issue in another PokerNews Debate.

Do you think high stakes prop bets are good for poker?

Donnie Peters doesn't believe they are

In the midst of the buzz surrounding Ashton Griffin's million-dollar prop bet to run 70 miles in 24 hours, a lot of people have begun questioning whether or not these outrageous prop bets are good for poker. Yes, they’re fun, especially when hundreds of thousands of dollars are being thrown around. But in the end, all these prop bets do is make the entire poker community look like a bunch of degenerate gamblers who, because can’t find enough action at the poker table, have to branch out to other areas to put massive amounts of money on the line flexing their bravados.

Over the years, some pretty well-known prop bets have occurred in the poker community. Jay Kwik once lived in a Bellagio bathroom for 30 straight days. Ted Forrest shed 50 pounds in a couple of months to collect a seven-figure payday from Mike Matusow. Erick Lindgren shot four rounds of golf under 100 each in 100-degree heat to collect from Gavin Smith, Phil Ivey and Chris Bell. Now, those are all great stories to tell and great challenges, but the amount of money bet on each of them is enough to make some people sick just thinking about it. Does the poker community really want to be seen as a bunch of degenerate gambling souls? It’s bad enough that most people consider poker just a giant game of luck. We don’t need to be labeled any worse.

When many sports fans found out that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods regularly gambled in Las Vegas, they saw it as a negative. If poker would like to get more into the mainstream, having these stigmas associated with poker won’t help. The community will quickly get written off as a bunch of gambling fools rather than people who play a game of true skill for money.

Not only does it make the poker community look bad, but the bets themselves look extremely unhealthy and damaging. Take Griffin’s recent bet. His parents ended up getting involved and trying to put a stop to the bet because they saw what was happening to their son. Griffin himself seems to recognize that he has a problem with gambling and prop betting that he needs to get control of. As a community, we shouldn’t want to be viewed as drug addicts with addictions we can’t control.

Rich Ryan is OK with prop betting — as long as it's not life-threatening

If Ashton Griffin had been putting his life on the line to run 70 miles in a day, it would have been unacceptable. If Ted Forrest was risking life-long effects on his health when he lost 50 pounds during the WSOP, then his actions would’ve been shameful. But in both cases, the competitors knew their bodies, and the only thing they were forfeiting was energy and time. Both Griffin and Forrest won their prop bets and neither regrets his actions nor does he show evidence of life long injuries.

People outside of the poker community who disapprove of high-stakes gambling don’t discriminate between action on and off of the felt. To them, a million-dollar pot on High Stakes Poker is equally as insane as a million-dollar prop bet to run 70 miles in a day. Conversely, those within the community idolize players like Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan who routinely play six-figure pots in televised cash games and were enamored of Griffin’s prop bet this past week.

Above everything, these types of bets come with the territory. Whether people are poker players or not, if they make a lot of money, then they are going to spend a lot of money in ways that please them. For gamblers, a good sweat is more meaningful than bottle service or a new car, so they bet on sports or make crazy prop bets. We don’t have the right to play preacher and tell players what they can and can’t do with their money. If Jay-Z can drive a $2 million Bugatti, then Griffin can run 70 miles for $300,000.

Prop betting will continue to intrigue fans and disturb conservatives who don’t understand the dynamics of the poker world. As long as players don’t risk their lives – or anyone else’s – we should leave them alone and allow them to do whatever they want with their money.

Would you make a million-dollar prop bet with a friend?

Donnie Peters wouldn't because these bets are unhealthy

Let’s say I had enough money where I was comfortable making a million-dollar prop bet with a friend. That doesn’t mean I would go ahead and do so. If I’m ever blessed to have this much money, I’d like to think it came to me from a lot of hard work and correct decisions in my life. Most of those decisions would most likely have been smart, money-based, business decisions that allowed me to become wealthy, and betting a million dollars with a friend of mine would be the exact opposite.

So many poker players have a blatant disregard for money and don’t really understand the true value of it. Money to them is just buy-ins, bets or big blinds, not actual dollars. Yes, that may be the reason they are able to do so well at poker and gambling, but there are many, many more failures out there in poker than successes. Making these sort of careless bets doesn’t do any good, for myself, for my friend and for our relationship. Everyday relationships end over money issues. Betting a million dollars – worth a couple of houses – will surely destroy more relationships than it builds. It’s not worth risking and it’s also not worth putting yourself or your friend through some of the things these poker players challenge each other with.

Betting against someone in a bet when you know they can suffer serious physical damage and ruin health shouldn’t be something that we idolize as fans of the poker community. There shouldn’t be a need and a want to feel like a degenerate and be labeled as one.

Rich Ryan wouldn't either, but can understand why those with money do

Like Donnie, I don’t think I would be able to wager $1 million against someone I considered a friend. Yes, it’s fun to make bets with people close to you so you can needle them if you win, but $1 million is an insane amount of money. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I won or lost, especially if I won and my friend was impoverished because of it.

Where Donnie and I differ is when it comes to the value of money. An individual’s value of money will always change based directly upon income, and neither Donnie nor I can fully understand what it’s like to bet six-figures because we’re not ballers. So, to the average person, these bets are inconceivable whereas to the select few who are making these wagers they’re just another part of their daily lives. Likewise, their relationships might not be affected as much by these wagers because they can sustain larger losses.

Prop bets become problematic when bettors value their edge more than their friendships. Against a stranger or the house, I’m always looking for an edge, but against a friend I’m just looking for a good sweat. No amount of money will ever exceed the value of a true friend.

If you're interested in hearing what Ashton Griffin himself has to say about his million-dollar prop bet, check out the PokerNews Podcast from late last week where he discusses things.

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