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Poker pros have known it for years. Gambling authorities (especially those in the US) have denied it for years. But now a study gives credence to the notion that poker is more about skill than luck.
Everyone in the gambling arena understands how important online poker is to the industry. Online poker rooms generate around £3 billion in poker winnings annually, but that figure would be two or three times greater if 'anti-poker' legislation like the US's 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act didn't exist.
Virtually all US states ban online gambling, which they say includes online poker. The US ban on online casinos is easy to understand – they don't want online players abandoning real-world casinos. The ban on online poker is not so clear, but the authorities have always deemed poker to be a game of luck, and not ability.
A study in the Dutch publication PLOS (Public Library of Science) indicates that in terms of poker, skill dominates chance. The study, conducted by Rogier Potter van Loon of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and Martijn van den Assem at VU University Amsterdam, analysed a database of over 456 million hands of online poker.
Regular online poker sharks will not find the results surprising. Players who were ranked in the top ten percent of regular poker players in terms of performance were found to be twice as likely to remain successful than those in the remaining ninety percent.
What's more, the 'elite' group, i.e. those in the top one percent, were TWELVE times more likely than the remaining ninety-nine percent to remain successful in their poker endevours.
The outcome of these figures is that when it comes to online poker, future performance can be predicted by previous performance. If poker was purely a game of chance, then there would be no connection between the two.
It's doubtful whether this information will cause policymakers to instantly lift bans on online poker playing, but at least now online poker pokers in restricted jurisdictions like the US have some concrete facts to add to their opinions. Since the report was published, several senators have voted to continue the ban on online poker playing in multiple states, despite bills being put forward.
In June 2017 though, the state of New York decided to buck the trend by voting through a bill that would pave the way for legal, regulated online poker. The New York senate unexpectedly voted though bill 'S 3898' by 54-8. The key aspect of this bill was again, that poker is an exception to anti-online gambling legislation as it is a game of skill, not chance.
Bill sponsor Senator John Bonacic said: "This bill serves two main purposes in allowing New Yorkers access to regulated online poker while providing critical consumer protections and increasing revenues to the state for education and taxes via operator licenses."
The bill still has to get through the New York Assembly, though. A similar bill failed in 2016 due to J. Gary Prestlow, chair of the Assembly Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, having doubts over the bill's support, and poker's status as a game of skill and not chance. It's unclear as to whether Prestlow's opinions may have mellowed over the previous twelve months.
Originally published on 29/03/15. Updated 06/07/17.