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Poker, as a Game of Skill, Is Beyond Reach of Gaming Laws

Posted in Poker by on July 9, 2010

The highly regarded British publication The Economist has just published an interesting article that strongly makes the case that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance.

The article notes that poker is, of course, big business these days, pointing to a consultant’s estimate that the online poker market amounts to $4.9 billion worldwide, with $1.4 billion of that being spent in the United States.

But is all this money being expended on gambling – on the chance fall of a card – or, rather, on a game of skill akin to bridge, chess, or checkers?

The Economist quotes David Sklansky, author of “The Theory of Poker,” as writing that “expert players do not rely on luck. They are at war with luck. They use their skills to minimise luck as much as possible.” As the article points out, this is a key question at the heart of the legality of poker in the United States, where the game was born.

We have long taken the view that poker is a game of skill, rather than of chance, and thus does not fall under the reach of state and federal anti-gambling laws.

The Economist seems to agree.

It notes that Sklansky has argued that it’s impossible to lose intentionally at a game of chance like roulette. Yet it’s easy to lose intentionally and rapidly at poker.

It’s good to see that this and other sensible arguments being made in such a prestigious publication.

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  1. The Economist author got this spot on. Every credible acedemic study I have read or heard of agrees, poker is a game of predominant skill. I have yet to see a plausible study that says poker is a game of chance. When you can present the clear facts to an unbiased judge or a jury they will also agree about the skillful nature of poker. The Poker Players Alliance has seen sucess with these arguments and we continue to build an airtight thesis that will continue to win in legal venues.

  2. It’s good to see serious publications raising serious questions about the mistaken associations between poker and gambling involving games of chane. The skill involved in poker (along with the advent of the hole-cam) is one of the reasons poker has become so popular as a form of entertainment for both players and viewers. I can’t think of something more dull than watching a roulette wheel spin, but the World Series of Poker, and the skill of the players is compelling for poker players and non-poker players alike. Truthfully, after reading a book like Michael Lewis’ “The big short,” the gambling aspects of poker barely register compared to the game of chance that was represented by derivatives of sub-prime loans. As poker continues to infuse the culture, it is more likely that legislatures and judges will recognize that the skill involved in the game (especially games like Texas Hold’ Em) is more like the savvy you find in Bridge, and nothing like the spin of a wheel.

  3. The Economist article doesn’t address the issue of cheating in poker, which would double the length of the piece. Most recently, the most trusted online poker site was infiltrated by a Chinese collusion ring, which is costing the site millions. (See twoplustwo poker forum for the exhaustive thread on the subject.) Some players would like to keep this quiet because it’s not good for the game. But cheating is a part of poker and it should be common knowledge. If poker were a game of chance, colluders wouldn’t be getting away with fortunes.

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