Oddly Enough

Is poker game of skill or chance?

LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters Life!) - A court in East London is expected to decide this week whether poker is a game of skill, chance or a combination of both.

A jury has been asked to weigh up the role played by Lady Luck in the world’s most popular card game, after police accused a club owner of illegally hosting a poker session and levying winnings and stakes without a license.

Britain’s Gambling Act states that a license is needed for hosting a game of chance but not those of skill, like chess.

Derek Kelly, owner of the Gutshot private club in central London, has been accused of breaking the law on two occasions -- December, 2004 and January, 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In theory the judgment, expected on Tuesday or Wednesday at Snaresbrook Crown Court, could have repercussions for poker clubs across Britain, which claim booming membership. Gutshot says it has around 23,000 members.

Britain’s online gaming sector is already in upheaval, after the United States effectively banned online gambling last year in a move that wiped billions of pounds (dollars) off the value of Internet gaming companies.

Britain opposes the U.S. ban, but has said it would not protect British gaming executives from U.S. extradition requests if they took bets from countries where they were illegal.


Last week the prosecution’s lawyer, Graham Trembath, said the jury would have to decide whether poker was a game of skill, or luck, or both.

The fact that the pack of cards was shuffled before a game introduced a significant element of chance, he added.

If the jurors decide poker is a game of chance alone or a mixture of chance and skill, then the jury should find Kelly guilty, the prosecution said.

On its Web site, the country’s Gambling Commission that regulates the sector in Britain, states:

“Whilst there are different levels of skill amongst poker players, the Gaming Act makes clear that even games of skill and chance combined are games of chance.”

But Gutshot argues there is a significant element of skill in poker, and that the game is being unfairly singled out under the law. They say golf, even chess, is partly down to chance.

Barry Martin, chief executive of Gutshot who has been at the trial, wants the law to differentiate between casino games like roulette and poker.

“We say there are no games in the world, not one, that are pure skill,” he told Reuters. “Chess has some form of chance.

“Poker is on trial here. We are saying poker should be moved into the 21st century and should be allowed to be played outside the hard gaming area of casinos.”

He expects the trial to wind up on Tuesday or Wednesday.