Is poker a game of skill?

In 2009, a Swedish court of appeal judged that a poker tournament was a game of skill. Starting February 22, the Supreme Court will deliberate the issue. The verdict might have consequences for the Swedish monopoly on commercial poker games. Only the state-owned Casino Cosmopol is allowed to run live tournaments and games.

The issue of skill and luck in poker has received a fair deal of attention among academic scholars. For those with an interest in the subject, I recommend the following recent texts.

  • Croson, R., P. Fishman, et al. (2008). Poker superstars: Skill or luck? Chance 21(4): 25-28.
  • Hannum, R. C. and A. N. Cabot (2009). Toward legalization of poker: The skill vs. chance debate. UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal 13(1): 1-20.
  • Fiedler, I. C. and J.-P. Rock (2009). Quantifying skill in games—Theory and empirical evidence for poker. Gaming Law Review and Economics 13(1): 50-57.

The main lesson of these papers is that relative differences in skill influence the expected results of players in a predictable way, determined by the number of hands played. It is thus possible to asses post factum the extent to which skill has influenced the outcome of a particular tournament. The crucial point for gambling legislation is to what extent it is possible to assess the chance/skill balance more generally.


The Supreme Court ruled that the poker tournament in question involved a significant amount of skill. Hence it was not “dobbleri”, i.e. hazardous gambling where chance decides who will win and where players face various risks because of the stakes inolved or the circumstances in general. “Dobbleri” is forbidden according to the Penal Code. However, the tournament was still a form of gambling and to arrange gambling games for the public requires a permit, accoring to the Lottery Law. The cash games played outside of the tournament were considered to be a hazardous form of gambling (“dobbleri”) where the chance element is predominant.

The verdict of the Supreme Court

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