Gender equality and poker – how women are opening up the game

This month we celebrated International Women’s Day, so we at Unibet thought we would take a look at the modern female poker game and how it’s popularity may be growing.

Although poker is still very much a male-dominated game, we’re proud to say that we count more women players than almost all other poker platforms – 15 percent of our online player base is female, whilst for other platforms, female participation is around 5 percent.

We asked three female poker players whether they think the place of women at the poker table is developing.

The differences between online and offline poker play

Women generally seem more comfortable playing online. We don’t provide chat rooms for our online players as this avoids unnecessary conflicts – for both sexes. This lack of interaction perhaps explains why women prefer online, but tend to stay away from live tournaments.

Unfortunately, women regularly encounter sexism in this game and the number of female poker players at live events still remains rather low. The testosterone-filled atmosphere seems partly to blame.

Poker player Tina Lange from Florida, United States, experiences sexism regularly at live poker events. She says, “sometimes at a table full of men, a woman is not taken seriously, it is assumed that she doesn't really know how to play. Is it a profound problem? I don't know, I can't speak for all women, but I know that it does happen.”

article-Tina Lange

She thinks this could be the reason why there are not enough women entering open poker tournaments: “I watch the World Series of Poker often and it's rare that a woman ever makes it to the final table. The reason isn't that the female players are lacking experience, it's just the percentages of women in the game to begin with! It doesn't set a good example for other women and girls who may have interest in the game.”

Men often see the poker table as an opportunity to hit on girls. We asked poker player Jessica Welman, from Kentucky, United States, if she thinks this is a problem in the world of poker: “for women who are new to the game who go to a casino by themselves to try and play, only to encounter a person who can't take a hint, she isn't just going to feel put off, there is a chance she is going to be worried about her safety because she has to cash out, get herself and her money back to her car safely, and get home.”

article-Jessica welman

What about women-only poker events?

The sexism that women experience at the poker table is not always that blatant. It can range from a man smoking around a pregnant player, to boasting after winning a hand. This type of macho behaviour often leads women to feel out of place at the poker table.

In order to combat this, casinos and other poker authorities have begun trying to organize women-only events. But, so far, the legitimacy of these events are difficult to prove. At a supposedly female-only event in Deauville, France, 22 men crashed it, defending their actions by a French law that states no one can be discriminated from events based on gender. After another event in New Jersey, a man took away the prize money of a breast cancer survivor based on that same law.

Incidents like this raise questions about the usefulness of ladies events. Tina Lange, for one, doesn’t think these women-only events are a good solution: “I believe we all have different styles of play and personalities and I don't really see a reason to segregate genders. I would simply like to see more women play the game.”

Other reasons why women are getting involved in poker

By creating women-only events, are we underestimating the will power of women? There are other ways of encouraging women to play the game.

The World Series of Poker, for example, attempted to get more women interested by introducing a lower buy-in at their events. Casinos have also started inviting more women to speak at poker casino seminars, in an attempt to change the male-dominated attitude toward the game.

The way poker is marketing also needs to change if we want more female buy-in. At televised events, the commentators are usually men, while background ‘royal flush’ girls – models hired for the sole purpose of background eye candy – may not be helping the cause.

article-Charlotte Van Brabander
Belgian poker player Charlotte Van Brabander, who won at the Unibet Open in London, thinks it’s actually an advantage being a woman at a mixed event: “I personally don’t experience many problems with sexism, I believe it can only be an advantage being a woman, if you know how to use it well. Unibet likes to keep things recreational and open, supporting every starting poker player.”

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