The debate surrounding the role of luck versus skills in poker has come to a new stage in Brazil, when Rio judge Domingos Joaquim de Almeida Neto ruled against 13 defendants on April 24th.
Said people were detained in an illegal poker den in 2010. By definition all poker houses are illegal under Brazilian gambling laws, which disallow casinos and other games of chance played for money.
At the same time it is legal to bet on sports in Brazil (on horse racing, to be precise), because the outcome is considered to be dependent on the bettor’s skill to a significant degree.
The thirteen unlucky players and Brazilian poker room organizers were sentenced to three months of community service after being found guilty in promoting illegal gambling. The decision by the 9th Special Criminal Court judge stated that even though skill played a role in the outcome, luck – in terms of the initial hand dealt – was still the single most important factor.
According to judge Almeida Neto, while one can not disregard the significance of a player’s strategy “depending on the cards you are dealt or even the position at the table, and regarding when to bet or not to bet, however, these components are not prevalent to the end result.”
The judge made a point of emphasizing that luck is a determining factor from the very start of the game, and all other considerations come into play only afterwards. “[If a player folds, they] certainly did so because they did not get good cards (luck), for if they had, there is no doubt the player would have kept playing. It is therefore undisputed that the distribution of cards, which happens randomly, is predominant in determining any action taking place in the game.”
Prosecutor Marcio Almeida (no relation) was content with the ruling. “The decision is in line with what the Justice Department has been claiming for a long time and directing its efforts to address this issue. From here we can begin to investigate other issues, such as whether or not winners declared their winnings to the tax authorities,” said Almeida.
The defendants have meanwhile appealed the ruling, referring among other things to the testimony of experts from the Institute of Criminology of Sao Paulo, which claims that the game “depends on the technique of the player.”