As they say in Vegas, the house always wins. Such was the case today in Switzerland, where a lawsuit brought to the Supreme Court by the Swiss casino industry declared poker a game of chance.
As a result of the ruling, the only legal way to play poker in Switzerland now is either in a casino or in a private home. Online poker and the popular tournaments hosted by hotels and bars are banned. The Supreme Court’s decision reversed the decision of a lower court and cannot be appealed. Poker players and supporters say that the ruling greatly benefits the casino industry by stifling competition and benefits the government, which taxes casino profits by 50%.
The question before the court was about which is more important in a game of poker: the strategy and psychology or sheer luck. After hearing both sides, the court ruled that luck outweighed skills like calculating odds, betting and bluffing.
Mark Friedrich, head of the Swiss Federation of Casinos, claimed that poker games outside of casinos allowed for crime, debt, and gambling addiction. Because Swiss casinos identify players and work to stop these acts, he claimed that poker providers without these restrictions were a form of unfair competition. Before the ruling, there were an estimated 100 unlicensed poker tournaments every weekend, presenting a major threat to casino business.
The ruling is contrary to a 2009 study by Cigital Inc. and PokerStars, which analyzed 100 million hands over a month. They found that less than one quarter of hands went to showdown and that the best hand won only 28% of the time. This data strongly suggests that skill is more important than luck. In another famous example, poker pro Annette Obrestad won a 180-person Sit & Go without ever looking at her hole cards – that is, playing blind.
As Matt Damon’s character famously says in the movie Rounders: “Why does this still seem like gambling to you? I mean, why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY SINGLE YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? It’s a skill game, Jo.”
There are currently cases in US courts debating the same issue. Hopefully, more research will surface so that these courts can make an informed decision on the issue.