Posted February 18, 2014 by John Baintree in News

Is poker a game of skill?


One gambling question that seems to be looming large in a number of places in the world asks “is poker a game of skill”. The reason the question is important is because the answer determines whether poker tournaments fall inside or outside the remit of much of the legislation that controls gaming around the world.

In one country, Holland, a recent verdict in an Amsterdam court appears to be about to send shockwaves through the poker world, initially in Holland and eventually in many other countries. So what was the verdict and why is it so significant.

After a seven year trial, brought by local authorities against three men who organized a poker tournament without a license, charges have just been completely dropped. The significant fact is that the charges were dropped following the reports of independent research into the chance vs skill debate regarding poker.

Dutch lawyer Peter Plasman, commenting on the case maintained that Dutch gambling law is unclear as it fails to identify what if believes are games of chance, opening the way for a debate about the nature of poker. So under Dutch law only organisers of tournaments for games of chance can be prosecuted, and given the law has clearly ruled that poker is a game of skill the way now appears clearly defined.

In the United States the picture appears to be quite murky.  In 2013 a district judge in New York ruled in favour of a local man organising games. The judge maintained that poker, unlike lesser games, does not break gambling laws. The District Attorney’s office took the case to appeal and in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the verdict was overturned. The court seemed to rule in favour of the argument that the game of skill discussion was one presented by online gambling organisations, deliberately to muddy the water. Perhaps the argument is not yet resolved as there are still higher courts of appeal, including the Supreme Court that could be asked to rule.

A paper presented in the UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal and written by Robert C Hannun (a statistics professor at Denver University)and Anthony N Cabot (a partner in a Las Vegas law firm), called Toward Legalization of Poker: The Skill vs. Chance debate, concludes that poker is predominantly a game of skill, with skill being a determining factor in betting strategies so it seems that as the body of academic opinion mounts on the skill side of the debate, we only have to wait for the courts to catch up.