Moderating the use of performance-enhancing substances is something that is prominent in some of the biggest sports in the world. It helps regulate the players involved to ensure that they don’t have an unfair advantage over their opponents. Even competitions in chess and bridge have taken measures to combat these issues, but poker competitions are yet to implement any kind of testing procedure. But, why is that?

Research Found a Drug Problem

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A study carried out by Nova Southeastern University found that 80% of those that played poker was using some kind of performance-enhancing drug. The same study found that it wasn’t just one substance that was being used either, with interviewees stating that they had used marijuana, valium, and cocaine, among others. Some also admitted drinking energy drinks to get an advantage, but that issue isn’t as damaging as the performance-enhancing substances.

Of course, this would immediately become a concern for opposing participants; especially if they don’t have that same advantage. But, there are still underlying health problems that could emerge should these substances be abused. This research wasn’t just carried out over amateurs either, as the paper admitted that those in the World Series of Poker who were interviewed, as well as people online from all continents.

Why Use Performance Enhancing Drugs?

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There are a number of reasons as to why one would choose to use these drugs throughout competitions. The main ones would revolve around improving their concentration, calming the nerves and keeping one awake. All of those aspects could be the difference between achieving big wins during games and crashing out an early stage.

The prize money that is involved in these biggest competitions would be the overwhelming reason for using drugs. And in reality, drug testing may actually be near impossible to regulate. The biggest organizations would have to subsidize a large amount of money to maintain the standards so that the games are fair for everyone. Consistency is the most important issue, and should competition begin to implement any kind of procedure then it would need to be regulated exactly the same across the board.

Examples Of Performance Enhancing Drugs

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There are a number of common drugs that appeared throughout the research, and each of them would appeal to someone different. Some drugs would enhance focus, while others would ensure that players would be able to stay awake for longer. Here are some of the most common drugs, and what players would be able to enhance should they take them: 

  • Adderall: One of the most common substances that are used in poker is Adderall. Adderal is most commonly used to treat people with ADHD, as it stimulates the central nervous system. Brandon Adams was a player that was a big advocate of this substance and appeared on 60 Minutes talking about the benefits.
  • Cocaine: After marijuana and alcohol, cocaine is the most popular substance used in poker. It appeals to players for the same reasons as Adderall, as it is used to ensure players can stay awake and on high alert. It’s easy to see why Cocaine appeals to poker place, but it does come at a high price.
  • Alcohol: The most common substance that goes hand-in-hand with poker is alcohol. Of course, alcohol affects everyone differently, but for some players such as Scotty Nguyen, it has a positive effect when dealing with pressure. Players that drink to excess, however, could suffer from memory difficulty later in the game. 
  • Marijuana: You would be amazed at the number of players that take part in the game after taking marijuana. But, there isn’t a substance that appeals to players more than it. However, it would likely have negative effects too as it is renowned for making people feel tired.

How Serious Could Testing Become For Players?

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It would have a massive impact on the poker scene, and there is no doubting that. Games such as bridge, chess, and e-sports have already implemented plans to clean up their respective games. All of those have the same things in common as poker, with all players looking for the same kind of advantages. Participants struggled to adapt to the measures in place, with Disa Eythorsdottir even stripped of her silver medal in the 2002 World Bridge Championships after failing a drug test. It may seem excessive, but that is the kind of punishment that would ensure that people will not be prepared to take the risk.

The biggest difference between the three games/sports that we have spoken about and poker; however, is that three that have implemented drug testing in the USA have all tried to become a sport at the Olympic Games. There are clear guidelines that must be met in order to be eligible for the event, and one of those is the mandatory testing of US participants taking part. Of course, that means that if you’re playing bridge or online poker with friends on sites like this, there won’t be a tester coming round to your house. It is only implemented at the highest level of competitions, and that could be a bonus that poker takes into consideration especially for tournaments that accept US players, where these cases have statistically been the most prolific.

Could Poker Players Be Banned For Failing?

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If testing is brought in, then there will need to be punishments also given to those that fail. Banning would be the obvious idea, but should that have been in place in 2002 for the WSOP Main Event, then half of the field could have been banned. There needs to be a clear plan in place to implement a testing procedure without the game suffering. Alcohol was one of the most used substances during that event, but would that have been considered an unlikely advantage?

Of course. Substances such as beer, nicotine, and marijuana are unlikely to feature on any possible restricted list. But, substances such as cocaine, Adderall and eugeroics may need further testing to see how they enhance performance.

Could There Realistically Be Drug Testing?

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The short answer is no. It would be virtually impossible to maintain the standard across the board and could eventually put some off taking part altogether, and nobody wants that. Should poker have no intention of ever becoming an Olympic sport, then it would be impossible to see any restrictions brought in. And, it looks virtually impossible that this would be a route that is ever thought about so. Therefore, testing seems to be out of the question. 

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