Skill or Just Dumb Luck?

Poker players, whether they play online or in brick-and-mortar casinos and card rooms, agree that winning consistently depends largely on skill, even though an element of luck comes into play with the turn of the cards. The “luck or skill” question could factor heavily in a judgment on whether a ban on Internet gamblingââ?¬â??particularly pokerââ?¬â??is legally justifiable. Under U.S. common law, games that are predominantly chance are considered gambling, while those that are mainly skill are not. Case law has cut both ways. In 1989, a California circuit-court judge found poker to be a game of skill. The decision kept the state’s card rooms open. In 2005, however, a North Carolina state judge called poker a game of chance, allowing local authorities to shut down a card room. Debate is likely to intensify now that Barney Frank has introduced a bill to reverse the ban on online wagering passed by Congress last year. There’s a strong case to be made for poker as a game of skill. In games of chance, like lotteries, slots or roulette, every player has the same odds of winning. In roulette, for example, a bet on any one number pays 35:1. The payoff is the same no matter who’s putting out the bet. In a game of skill like No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, however, the outcome of the exact same hand, dealt under the exact same conditions with the same opponents, can differ vastly depending on who’s playing the cards.

Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.