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More Luck Than Skill in Poker, Pennsylvania Court Claims

2-1 Ruling Reverses Earlier Decision

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled against two poker players last week.It’s a decision that will leave many poker players scratching their heads.

“While the outcome of poker may be dependent on skill to some degree, it is predominantly a game of chance,” Judge Robert Freedberg wrote in an opinion last week.

So yeah, if you’ve been making a living through poker, consider yourself blessed. Because according to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, you’re one lucky guy (or girl). Or, at least, you’re winning at a game that is primarily luck.

The controversial 2-1 ruling by the court reversed a trial judge’s ruling from January 2009 that poker was more of a game of skill than a game of chance, and thus not subject to the state’s illegal gambling laws.

The Poker Players Alliance released a statement saying it was “disappointed” with the ruling, but that “the case is not over,” indicating that the organization believes the defendants will appeal to the state’s supreme court.

The case in question centers on two individuals, Walter Watkins and his girlfriend at the time, Diane Dent, who were running a small-stakes poker game out of his garage.

The game of choice was usually $1-$2 no-limit hold’em, according to various news outlets, although the recent Superior Court opinion described it as a game where “players placed bets worth $1.00 or $2.00 into the ‘pot’ and at the conclusion of each game the winner would receive the pot.”

However, an undercover state trooper began attending the games and eventually broke it up, prosecuting the individuals under Pennsylvania’s illegal gambling laws.

However, Watkins and Dent refused to plead guilty and decided to take the case to court. Thanks to both Pennsylvania law and a previous state supreme court decision, they found themselves in a great position to exonerate themselves.

Poker is once again a hot topic in the courts.While many states outlaw “games of chance” — a description the PPA and others believe poker cannot be called — the state of Pennsylvania goes one step further. Based on a 1983 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, “for a game to constitute gambling, it must be a game where chanced predominates rather than skill.”

So, even if you believe that the terms are not mutually exclusive and that poker can be both a game of skill and a game of chance, it is not considered illegal gambling in Pennsylvania if it is determined that there is more skill involved than chance.

That’s why trial judge Thomas James initially threw out the case, saying that it was clear to him after the evidence was presented that poker was a game of skill.

But the state appealed and the Superior Court overruled James’ verdict in a 2-1 ruling last week.

In Judge Freedberg’s decision, he pointed to a variety of court decisions from across the United States that identified poker as a “game of chance” — including a 1904 New York case, a 1911 Missouri case, 1919 Nevada case, a 1927 Oregon case, a 1928 Utah case, a 1935 Kansas case, a 1971 Washington case, a 1995 New York case, and a 2007 North Carolina case.

While those states do not have as explicit a “dominant factor” test as Pennsylvania has because of its supreme court’s 1983 decision, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania decided that it was clear to them that poker was, for the most part, a game of chance.

“We agree with the cases cited above that, while the outcome of poker may be dependent on skill to some degree, it is predominantly a game of chance,” the court wrote.

Poker advocates hope the state supreme court will overturn this decision.Judge Robert Colville disagreed with his two fellow judges, and issued a dissenting opinion. He didn’t argue that poker was necessarily a game of skill, but said that the commonwealth had failed to prove in court that poker was primarily a game of chance.

“The Commonwealth failed to present any evidence which, if accepted as true, would prove that the games played at the Appellants’ Texas Hold’em Poker tournaments were games where chance predominated over skill. In other words, the Commonwealth failed to meet its burden of proof at the hearing,” wrote Colville.

Although a decision to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is up to the two poker players involved, it seems clear that the PPA hopes that they will do.

“We think it is likely that the case will promptly be pursued to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will have the final word on that state’s laws,” said John Pappas, the executive director of the PPA. “That Court should agree with the excellent opinion of the trial judge in this case, who recognized that poker is a game of skill, not illegal gambling.”

 
 
 
 

Comments

dirtydirty00
over 4 years ago

the stock market is all a scam. all it really is, is legalized gambling. the goverment allows it because they can tax and track teh money.

all the people in the stock market are running around in suits and are 'businessmen' so it makes it all ok.

when in reality there is more 'cheating' going on in the stock market than in the poker world. so many people get inside info and use it to make money. they drive prices up and dump them, spread rumors that influence the stocks, ect.

to outsiders the stock market is chance. to insiders its not chance bc they can effect it, which is exactly how its NOT supposed to work. but the whole market is all a sham anyway.

 
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BigSlick_MO
over 4 years ago

Well, even though you are much more likely to lose your entire retirement or fortune on the stock market, it is not a gambling because it is "fair" and "regulated". wink , wink

And thank this wonderful trooper who showed our hard tax dollars at work by breaking up this terrible crime syndicate. Now we can all sleep at night.

Give me a F***'n break, common sense has gone out the window in this country

 
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dirtydirty00
over 4 years ago

yup. theres a lot of 'wink wink's going on in this country.

 
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BDOC
over 4 years ago

Brian Dougherty
Websters defines luck as...

Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English lucke, from Middle Dutch luc; akin to Middle High German gelücke luck
Date: 15th century... See More

1 a : a force that brings good fortune or adversity
b : the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual

2 : favoring chance; also : success

FAVORING CHANCE. This is the point. Do the rules of poker favor chance or do the rules allow the players to favor chance?

Every game, every activity has LUCK involved. It is luck that you walked out of you home today and didn't get hit by a bus. In Baseball two highly skilled teams fight it out and they still drop the ball or swing and miss. How much luck is involved there?

I submit that POKER is a game, so luck is involved, but its rules allow players to control to what degree luck is involved on a hand-to-hand basis. Which is why sometimes it seems like a game of pure luck and other times it seems like only the pro will ever win. This can be said about other games like Darts for example.

Most people would agree that darts is a game of skill.
However the players can play darts within the rules in such a way that there is more luck than skill involved. A player can throw all three darts at once or turn around and throw them over his shoulder. They are still playing darts, they could still win, however they have taken all of the skill out of the equation and have PLACED THEMSELVES in a position where LUCK will be the determinate factor if they win or lose.

In poker players PLACE THEMSELVES in positions where LUCK is more of a factor than skill. If you train to be a good player, have a decent understanding of math and human nature, learn to control yourself and be patient ANYONE can reduce the amount of luck each hand so that it is well dominated by SKILL

The Judges are wrong. they are looking at this issue in a vacuum and poker is an experience that is much more dynamic.

B-doc

 
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KimberK2
over 4 years ago

What I guess I find the most distressing about all the fuss is the fact that all these states allow the "Lotto". If they want to talk about games of "chance" and gambling..............

 
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KimberK2
over 4 years ago

There is absolutely no SKILL in picking out ping pong balls. That leads to the issue of BINGO.. how many bingo halls do we have in this country? Pennsylvania for example allows firehouses, churches and private clubs to have bingo games because they are "non-profits" I guess they are just lucky

 
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AltronIV
over 4 years ago

I love Annie Duke's argument about skill vs. luck. She attributes it to Sklansky and her brother Howard Lederer. Basically it goes like this:

Forget about winning at poker, and think for a moment about losing. Is it possible to intentionally lose a poker game?

The answer is yes, of course. Is it possible, meanwhile, to intentionally lose a game like Baccarat or roulette or craps?

No, it’s not — which means that you have no control over the outcome, which means that they are entirely games of chance. And which means, in Duke’s argument, that poker, therefore, is not.

 
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bparmalee
over 4 years ago

I was with you untill you invoked the Annie Duke card...yuck. Poker really needs to start winning some of these cases. We need a win out there but maybe we are just getting unlucky. I blame all poker players that blame bad luck everytime they lose. If they would just say "Man I was really unskillfull last night!!" maybe peoples perception would change. I blame you railbird and your bad beat stories!!!! Florida....step up and give us real poker.....we need this win!!!

 
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kamflow
over 4 years ago

Quit whining. Poker is a game of luck. The lower the stakes the more luck is involved Now be as it may be, skill is also involved in the game. Making reads (live), betting patterns and so on, yet luck is definitely involved in where people call with anything. What skill is it when they try to "catch something?" Online is even worse.

 
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Cloverfield
over 4 years ago

The worse the player the more they call it a game of luck. So we know how good kamflow is.

 
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KingaDimuns
over 4 years ago

i think it can be agreed that for most people, poker turns into a game dominated by how lucky they get, and when that becomes the case, they become long term losers.
but there are people out there who have learned how to use skill to trump the lucky aspect of the game. they make a living off it, and some have been doing it for decades.
there are no "long term lucky winners". so if it is a fact that there are long term winners, then poker ought to be considered a game of skill

 
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From_theTips
over 4 years ago

My Friday night home game has 21 players on average every Friday for 5 years. We keep a leaderboard every year of who wins and how much. The same 5-6 are at the top of that leaderboard every year. Wow those guys are really running good for five years..... Funny how none of them have won the lottery in the same time.

 
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mikeyb111
over 4 years ago

I think the issue for the court was whether poker was "primarily" based on luck. Everyone can agree that in the short term luck is dominant. If you have an edge over a player that advantage does not have to manifest itself immediately. It may take awhile for the better player to show a profit. If in the short term poker is 80% luck and 20% skill then based on how the law is written the court ruled correctly.

 
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naugie
over 4 years ago

Is it strange that all the cases the court cited were from times before there was sound mathematical theory being used in poker? These cases go back to almost a hundred years old! Common expected value equations, game theory, and equity weren't topics that were discussed in regards to poker in those years, which is one big reason why everyone called it gambling! We know better, and the volume of literature now compared to then should be evidence against a precident from an uneducated time, especially considering there is no listed "house edge" like in every single other card game in a casino. This almost seems political, or that variance somehow put 2 judges in this case who each have a strong opinion against poker that takes precedent over obvious logic.

 
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clc9986
over 4 years ago

There is no such thing as luck.

 
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WayneBullet
over 4 years ago

Luck is for the losing players. I like the comparison of lotto. Most states allow this. What hypocrisy.

 
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mikeyb111
over 4 years ago

" for a game to constitute gambling, it must be a game where chance predominates rather than skill" Poker meets that definition since chance predominates in the SHORT term . Therefore as the law is written poker is gambling.

 
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texasroadgambler
over 4 years ago

Good players make their own "luck". Yes, Lady Luck drops in occasionally, but she's not a regular. This is especially true in high-stakes cash games structured for faster play.

The great poker players make more money playing their opponents hands than playing their own. Not to be confused with "bluffing".

 
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dare2
over 4 years ago

Let's face it. Poker IS a game of chance in lower stakes games. People do stupid things when the risk is minimal. But the skill factor increases exponentially as the stakes increase which is where this court should have been basing its opinion.

 
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Dam2s
over 4 years ago

If poker is more chance then why not throw money into every pot on every hand like you do at Black Jack ? A skilled player knows not to do this .Enough said judge ?

 
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Dino Stacks
over 4 years ago

What's more sickening then getting it in with the best hand over and over only to lose to the 'lucky' player? No fun when all the skill and right moves still add up to a losing record. Is that unlucky for the skilled player or lucky for the unskilled who keeps dragging pots? Big stakes aren't much diffent than small stakes anymore. Watch the last minute and a half of Sam Farha's video clip and hear his opinon on how players at the highest levels "count on their luck to win". Even when they know their behind 4-1 they'll push it in and hope for luck. You can discuss it all day like politics or religion. The gov't will do what it wants when it wants.

 
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texasroadgambler
over 4 years ago

Dino Stacks: You might want to reconsider using Farha as your authority. His play against Moneymaker at the end demonstrates that he was lost in the hand. I'm writing of his laydown against the all-in bluff of Moneymaker. He had a thru ticket on the turn. Then the cooler that came next would have never been dealt, and he would have won the championship. Bad luck? No, bad play.

Great players make laydowns when they are lost in the hand.

 
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beerfwhat
over 4 years ago

Poker is 60% skill, 30% luck, and 10% avoiding donkeys who lack skill and get super lucky.

 
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clunker
over 4 years ago

your numbers are close beerfwhat but it depends where your playing. Live 60% luck 30% skill and 10% cheating. Internet 75% cheating 20% luck 5% skill. Farha's lay down ways bad only because it was wrong guess if he was behind and folded then went on to win it would have been a great fold. Hind sight and hole cam make for great second guessing. Biggest skill needed in poker is the beans to go broke. The cards you are dealt are random and just luck then you gamble.

 
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bparmalee
over 4 years ago

I just won the NC State lottery but then lost it all last night in a 1-2 home game...I run so bad. Hand recap. Hero 33.5 million seat 3 120 bux. Hero AA seat 3 10 10. Flop A 10 10. We go all in and the house gives seat 3 a 40 million dollar marker during the hand and I go broke. Sigh...back to the grind. Anyone know any 20 dollar freezes out in NC and can you back me?

 
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bparmalee
over 4 years ago

What does that have to do with staking me???? Lets not lose site of whats really important here....getting me back in action. Im a higher stakes razz player by trade (I have crushed many .1-.5 spread limit razz game) but I think my no limit holdem game is solid. I mean there are plenty of people willing to stake me but Im only offering my services to you. I know and your welcome.

 
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striderm
over 4 years ago

mikeyb111 is the only one who understands the issue. I can play one hand with Phil Ivey and I just might win. Sit me down for much longer and I dont stand a chance. Its all about the 'time frame' which everyone buy mikeyb111 keeps ignoring. Each judge interprets 'time frame' differently. Thank You, A Judge

 
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THESHAM
over 4 years ago

AMEN...THE DOMINANT FACTOR IN POKER IS LUCK.....

(IT'S EITHER LUCK OR ONLINE POKER SITES RIG THE OUTCOME)..OR PROBABLY A COMBINATION OF BOTH..

 
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Mr.Happy
over 4 years ago

If those judges think it's predominantly luck, I'd happily challenge them to 100,000 hands of poker played online in a private room ('cos live would take years, obviously). If I'm ahead at the end of the 100,000 hands, I keep all the money I take from them. If they're ahead overall, I double the money they win. If it's purely a game of chance, surely that's an excellent deal for them, right? 2-1 odds on a game of chance?

As an aside, I guess all the online players who think it's predominantly a game of luck are also 'unlucky' players? ;)

 
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Rod1
almost 3 years ago

Yes, it's 90% luck and 10% skill. You need to get cards to win and hold up.

 
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