Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pennsylvania Judge Rules Poker Game of Skill

Last week a Columbia County judge dismissed gambling charges against the operators of a garage poker room finding that Texas Hold’em was a "game of skill."
Prosecutors in the case had charged the poker room operators with unlawfully soliciting and allowing "persons to collect and assemble for the purpose of gambling." But Judge Thomas A. James examined four issues in determining whether "gambling" had taken place: whether each player had enough data to make an informed choice; whether each player had the skill or opportunity to exercise skill in the game; whether skill sufficiently governs the outcome; and that the standard of skill is known to all players.

James wrote is his opinion “Simply, if chance predominates, Texas Hold’em is gambling. If skill predominates, it is not gambling.” James examined the extensive body of poker books which describe various winning strategies to play the game. James quoted several books on the matter including Mike Caro’s “Secrets of Winning Poker.” And he referenced various academic studies including a study by Swedish researchers that found that "Hold'em is a very sophisticated game requiring mastery of many different skills." After evaluating all the factors involved, the judge agreed with the poker experts that "in the long run, good players willw in money and bad players will lose money."

While it seems obvious that skill, not luck, predominates in poker, it is still significant for a judge to come to that decision after considering all the evidence. This is especially true in light of another recent contrary ruling, in Kentucky, where a lower court judge claimed that poker was a game of luck because whoever has the best hand wins (showing a complete ignorance of how few hands go to showdown and how much more is involved than hand rankings).

The more that poker is properly considered a game a skill, the better chance to have it accepted. Let's hope more jurisdictions follow Judge James' lead.