I don't normally gamble. On the rare occasion, if asked by a group of friends, I may consider it if it's not for much money. (for example it's possible everyone is given chips for free and return them at the end so no real money is involved). How do I ask how much money, if any, people are planning on involving? In theory games like poker could be done free or for hundreds of dollars.

Here is the backstory. I live in a large shared house with a lot of international people. We have trouble communicating as English is the only common language but many don't feel comfortable speaking it. (Also there are some culture differences, like I noticed someone was resting his feet on the table which is different than I'm used to).

Someone in the house suggested we get together to do something fun to get to know each other. I think this is a great idea. Someone else suggested poker. I'm not really comfortable gambling in the first place, let alone with roommates who don't normally speak the same language.

I would like to avoid the awkward situation where it looks like I'm trying to avoid them as people would probably know I'm home but not joining. How can this be done? On the other hand, if no money is involved, I may as well join.

8 Answers 8


Short answer: Ask :)

If it is a concern for you, simply ask the person who suggested it what the stakes would be. Something like:

Hey, I quite like the idea of us all playing poker, but I'd really rather not play for actual money. If you're just planning to play with plastic chips then I'd be happy to join in. Otherwise, I'm just not comfortable betting real money here. What did you have in mind?

That way you're showing interest in playing, but not in losing your shirt :)


Maybe poker etiquette varies or something, but where I come from (United States, Florida) the question "What's the stakes?" is pretty much the standard question you ask as you go up to the table.

If they just point to the chips, you ask: "Real money or just in fun?"

  • Suggest other stakes besides money. In a place where everyone has to live and exist, stakes such as doing dishes, cleaning the bathrooms, buying a 24 pack of beer for the house, fixing a large dinner and the like, these stakes can be fun, depending on the existing structure of chores. DO NOT make these suggestions WHILE a game is going on. That's rude. You don't like how much stakes are for, pull a face and say "OH! Too rich for my blood. Maybe for lower stakes some other time." Suggestions should never happen while the game is going on. Neither should any kind of extended conversation if you are not playing.
  • Indicate that you'd be interested in poker, but only for low or no stakes. Or with a pot limit. A little poker knowledge goes a long way. Ask these questions. If the limit is high or gods forbid there's NO LIMIT, ask about it.I've seen games where each poker chip is considered a penny or 10 cents or a quarter each, but even that can add up for sure. Say: "It's a great way to get to know each other, but I don't want us to fall out over gambling debts!" Penny poker, though, seriously, it's not a big deal--pretty rare these days (most people think it's a little pansy to play that way, but if you want super low stakes, that's the way to go. Then set the pot limit at like a dollar or 50 cents a player).

In poker the etiquette is that it should be CLEAR as CRYSTAL what the terms are for the game. You don't like the terms, you should not sit at the table.

And if poker becomes a household thing, and there are some staked games, you can ask if on Thursday or whatever day of the week you can do a steakless game. In fact, you might want to build consensus. It's unlikely that you are the only person that's not comfortable with losing money. So the solution is you talk to everyone individually-- "Hey there, we talked about poker as a fun group activity. I'm not so much into gambling, but it sounds fun. Would you like to be part of a no stakes game, no money game on Friday/insert day of the week here?"

If you want something to be a certain way, you have to take responsibility for organizing it or having conversations with folks.


In my experience, in individualistic societies, typically Western, we can ask directly and decline with the usual range of polite phrases without offence. There is, however, some risk of being classed as simply 'not one of them'.

With collectivist, shame-based societies, it is important to minimise confrontation and allow for saving face. Given that, I have found people from the Far East (my area of contact) practical enough to allow for individual taste, especially if you are not one of them anyway.

If you want to say, 'No', it is less confronting if you have an involuntary reason: illness, inescapable commitment, culture or taboo. Even personal embarrassment works well, since emotions are not seen as a choice. This is one example of our own limitation being the reason for not participating, usually easier for others to accept.

Your ignorance of poker is a workable excuse. You can also show interest by offering an alternative to playing, such as watching the game. This way, you do not have to ask about the gambling.

If you ask directly and they say it is cashless, then you are almost trapped into playing. One way out of this is to make the gambling question a side issue.

Example: "Oh my! We were never allowed to play poker at home [taboo]. I don't know anything about it; I would feel so bad and just spoil it for everyone else [personal weakness]. Would it be ok if I watched for a bit [diversion/safe alternative + involvement]? By the way, isn't it a terribly expensive game to play [frame as 'side issue' + exaggeration]?"

By over-stating your concern, you allow them to graciously 'correct' your 'misunderstanding'. If they were thinking of gambling [confrontation risk], you have enabled them to change their minds without revealing the fact [face-saver]: "Oh no, we don't have to play for money; we use matchsticks."

Overall, if we keep our focus on the well-being of the others, that tends to show through and 'trump' a lot of gaffes. Then, one great way to heal the inevitable mistakes is a quick, explicit and unreserved apology. With such caring attitudes, we can explore each other's culture and form our own cultural microcosm within the residence. What else would internationals expect in such circumstances?


You could say something like:

I don't like to gamble with real money but would love to join in if we're just playing with plastic chips.

I think that this is a good solution because it uses clear and direct language, mitigating any sort of misunderstanding due to language barriers, or misinterpretation of intention due to cultural differences. When language and culture differences are factors in communication, I think that keeping things simple is more effective.


There are a few different approaches here

Appropriate jargon

What are the stakes?

It's poker jargon (well, I guess gambling jargon in general), it gets to the point. You're likely to get a straight forward answer immediately.

In case you've stumbled into a group who look down on players who only play when there's no money involved; you've also avoided drawing their attention to that fact. They can't know if you're asking the exact stakes ($10 or $100?), or if you're asking if any money is involved at all.

Note that it could be a group that plays for fun, but still puts up a low amount of money. Me and some friends would put in the price of a beer each. The money is negligible, but it at least gives the players some incentive to win. Even though we usually ended up buying a round for the group; the winner still gets to be the one to buy the round.

If this is the sort of game you've found yourself in, then this question will show that. You'll get a response along the lines of "[low amount], but we're really just playing for fun".
Note: On the rare occasion where someone wouldn't want to put in any money, we let them play along anyway but without the chance of winning anything from the pot. The pot always went to the highest ranking player who put money in.

Fishing for a correction.

Instead of asking it, which can be awkward, assume that it's a cash game and reply as such:

  • No thanks, I'm already broke enough.
  • No thanks, I'd feel bad taking all of your money.

Pick whichever reply you feel more comfortable with. In either case, it's a comically intended quip, not a serious statement.

Since you seem to have already decided to not play a cash game; this achieves the best of both worlds. If it's a cash game, you've already said no. If it's not a cash game, someone will correct your assumption, at which point you can change your mind and agree to join the game if you want to.

Be direct.

Just ask them. Your mind seems to be made up, and these are your friends. Odds are that they're either already aware of your opinion on betting money, or won't be shocked to find out your opinion.


Normally, if a group of friends want to play poker together, they play for money, but only for very small amounts. The whole point of playing poker is that there is something to loose, so people think before betting. If you can always get as many new chips as you want for free, you may as well bet everything, every time. So you either have to play for something (money) or you need to limit the amount of chips people can get, and don't let them play anymore when they are gone. Doing something together with friends is not so much fun if half the people are not allowed to play anymore, so that is why people usually play for money.

On the other hand, nobody wants to loose their rent money on a game, nobody wants arguments, and most people don't want to make money off their friends, especially if they play a little better than the rest. So people usually play for very small amounts. For me, a general rule of thumb would be that even if you are extremely unlucky, you would still spend less than what you normally spend on an activity together. On average it costs nothing of course.

When I was a student I would play poker with my friends about once a month. If we went out for a few beers I would spend 10 to 50 euro most nights, if we played poker together, we would have a €5 buy-in. That would normally give me enough chips to play for 1 or 2 hours on a bad day. On a good day I would obviously play all evening with it because my pile would only grow. The most I ever lost was €20, and I also won €15 to €20 a few times.

In your question you are not clear about whether you want to play for money at all, and if so, for how much. I think that they will tell you that they want to play for very small amounts if you ask them. I would think about whether I am ok with that before I ask the question. If you tell them you don't want to play for any money, they can consider changing the plan for you, if they don't want to change the plan, at least they know whether they should count on you. If they tell you they want to play for a completely insignificant amount, and you tell them that you still don't know if you want to join, they can't do anything, and it is just annoying for them.

The second issue you brought up is that playing for money could lead to arguments, In my experience that is very rare if you play for very small amounts. The only thing I ever saw that caused some irritation is 'borrowing from the pot', of from the winner. People want to buy more chips, but they don't have the money on them, so they get the chips anyway, and promise to pay the €5 to the winner later. What often happened is that the winner does not want to make money off his friends, and tells the people to forget about the money that should still be paid. This is for fair to the people who did bother to come prepared, and went the extra mile to get some cash, they get a bit annoyed, and may forget to bring money on purpose next time. Then things get messy, that is why we did not allow borrowing from the pot anymore after a while, and told people to borrow directly from a friend if they don't have the money on them, that worked fine. Nobody was ever annoyed for long though. Often the winner would take back his own €5, and spend the rest of his winnings on some beer for the group. The annoyed people had 3 hours of fun for only €5, and they they even got back 4 of them in beer, so they forgot about it not being fair after about 10 seconds!

I always had a lot of fun playing poker with friends, and in the end it was one of the cheapest activities we could do, so I can only recommend it, but only if the stakes are low and you wont miss the money you could loose.


A playful way to let them know you are not interested in gambling for actual money, but you would be interested in participating is to say something like, "Are we playing with chocolates or jelly beans? Because lookout, I'm a Candy Shark" then wink.

If they look confused, that probably means they meant money. That's your chance to say, "I'm a Micro-roller, one roll of pennies is my limit."

If they're betting for more than candy or pennies your third option is to say, "although the stakes are too steep for me,I can still play how about I be Dealer?"

If nothing else, You can still be in the room, enjoy some snacks and participate in the conversations.


I would say that you're willing to play poker and suggest from the get-go that you all use just chips or some kind of cheap substitute. Even if every single one of you loved poker and was willing to lose money on it, you don't want to create a situation where people who live together end up owing each other large amounts of money. Then if anyone argues, you can point to that policy as a reason not to want to play.

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