2009 has seen the debate rage around the globe regarding whether poker is a game of skill or one that is dependent on the whims of luck and fortune. A writer from the Miami Herald has thoroughly depicted all sides of the debate and leaves it to his readers to determine which one they side with.
Herald writer Michael Vasquez reports in his article that the recent decision by the Florida legislature to increase the stakes at many of the poker rooms in the state came down to the argument that poker is a game of skill. Vasquez states, “…during the legislative session, skill was mentioned as one reason lawmakers should allow higher stakes — with the idea that more chips in players’ hands allow for skill to play a larger role.”
Vasquez then points out that many states have found the same “game of skill” argument to be valid. Court cases in Colorado, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have all been decided by judges who ruled that poker was predominantly a skill-based endeavor. In addition to this – but not featured in Vasquez’ article – other nations such as England and Sweden have already ruled that poker is a skill game and England has moved to regulate the industry.
Academic studies are also a key part of the evidence that Vasquez presents in his article. Featured most prominently is the study of over 103 million hands on PokerStars by Sean McCulloch, an associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Ohio Wesleyan University. The now famous study demonstrated what most in the poker world already knew – that skill in betting rather than the cards actually held was more prevalent in the determination of a winner by a 3:1 margin.
Vasquez also presents the opposite side of the argument by speaking with the Florida Family Policy Council. In the article, Vasquez quotes John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council, who says it is “hilarious” that the poker community is trying to separate itself from the gambling label. Vasquez also contacted the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, who reports that calls to its offices indicate that those who are poker “addicts” tend to be more than $10,000 deeper in debt than slots players who call the same helpline.
The examination of the issue by Michael Vasquez in his article is an important addition to other pieces that the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have added to the poker conundrum. More academic study could potentially solve the issue but, for now, the poker world has to continue the age old debate of “skill versus luck” in the game.

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