The Appeals Court in Amsterdam has overturned a District Court ruling that poker is a game of skill and fined three men for organising poker tournaments.
The debate about whether poker is a game of skill or a game of luck seems to have been running forever. Even before Judge Jack Weinstein acquitted Lawrence DiChristina of running an illegal poker school (subsequently reversed on appeal), studies were showing that it takes skill rather than luck to be a successful poker player.
From the 2008 Case Western Reserve University “Poker is a Skill” study to last year´s “When the Chips are Down” joint study by the University of Nottingham, the Erasmus University Rotterdam and VU University in Amsterdam, scientific research has always concluded that poker is a game of skill. Unfortunately courts are constantly undermining scientific research – the “Case of the Bussum Three” being the latest example of a sensible judgement being overruled by political manipulation.
The Case of the Bussum Three
Between 2005 and 2007, poker tournaments were hosted once a week at a small family-run bar in the town of Bussum – thirty minutes drive to the south east of Amsterdam. The tournaments had an entrance fee of €10.00 – half of which went to the event organisers, and the other half paid for a drink and a snack for the players during the game.
The Wednesday poker tournaments grew in popularity and attracted up to seventy players each week. However, in April 2007, word got to the authorities that the bar was hosting “illegal” poker tournaments. The games were stopped, and the two organisers and the bar owner were charged with being in breach of Dutch gambling laws.
Game of Skill Argument Wins at First
When the case was presented to the District Court in 2010, the defendants argued successfully that poker was a game of skill, and therefore they were not organizing games of chance in contravention of Article 1 of the Dutch gambling laws. The argument held up when the case was reviewed by the Chamber of the Amsterdam Court in January 2014.
However, the Dutch Advocate General is of the opinion that poker is a game of chance at its core. He believes that the success of players depends on how they handle the chances they are given, and he instructed the Public Prosecutor to appeal against the decision. The hearing took place at the Appeals Court in Amsterdam last month.
Then Appeal Court Kicks it Into Touch
In their written judgement released on Thursday, judges Postma, Loyson and Iedema took the side of the Advocate General in finding that success in poker still revolved around an element of luck. They noted that despite several court cases to the contrary, this is also the view of the Dutch government, the Ministry of Justice and Security, and the tax authorities.
The judges also commented that the three defendants did not help their cause by forming a “Card Association” to circumnavigate the requirement to obtain a betting and gaming permit. The opinion of the judges was that the three defendants knew perfectly well that what they were doing was illegal and they rejected the defence`s case in its entirety.
Organisers Issued with Suspended Fines
The finding of the Appeals Court did not have serious consequences for the two tournament organizers and the bar owner. The organisers were punished for their criminal activity with fines of €1,250, while the bar owner was fined €500 – all three fines suspended for two years. The finding also confirms the state-owned Holland Casino venues as the only places that Dutch poker players can legally play live poker.
However, the finding of the Appeal Court does raise the question about what does it actually need for those in authority to understand the basic principles of playing poker. It is clear to anybody successfully playing poker – live or online – that the cards a player is dealt is not the primary factor for long term success. In a court case related to a complicated medical procedure, a judge would take expert advice before making a judgement. Why not do the same for poker? Or is political manipulating (in any poker-playing country) too hard to resist.