Sweden’s Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a case that will decide the future of poker within the Scandinavian country. The case is closely followed by poker players, industry analysts and online gambling news in Sweden. The case involves four men convicted three years ago for hosting a poker tournament, illegal under current Swedish gambling laws. The judges will have to decide whether player judgment and skill was more important than the quality of the random cards dealt (luck) over the course of the two day long tournament.
Industry analysts believe that if the judges see poker as a skill based game, tournament poker will no longer be under the supervision of Sweden’s state-owned gambling monopoly (Svenska Spel). Such a decision will open the door to competition and a better variety of professionally organize poker tournaments.
The case began in 2008, when a district court sentenced two men to a six month jail term and fined an additional two for hosting a multi-million kronor tournament with over 700 participants. In 2009 the Court of Appeals reduced the charges for the four organizers because Texas Hold’Em poker was the tournament’s game of choice.
Swedish gambling laws clearly say that tournaments are only considered illegal if the game played depends on chance or luck and not skill or strategy. Otherwise the accused cannot be convicted of serious illegal gambling offenses, as the four organizers of the poker tournament were. The case was appealed by the Prosecutor-General to the Supreme Court which began hearing testimony from expert witnesses the previous week.
The first series of expert witnesses gave the Supreme Court Justices a breakdown of Texas Hold’ Em, including the rules of the game, basic strategy and the values of different card combinations. The lesson included a short video which showed how a live tournament is played. Poker experts testified that it takes “courage, patience, experience and mathematical and psychological knowledge” to become successful at the game.
The witness all agreed that it takes years of practice and a lifetime of knowledge to become a successful poker player in Swedish poker rooms and that the vast majority of poker games are consistently won by players with a higher level of skill.
One of Sweden’s top mathematicians, Dr. Erik Broman, testified that tournament poker is a game which is based on skill and only the very first card dealt is random. “After the first card, skill is what matters. It’s about how one reacts in different situations, bets, and calls. A talented player has a greater chance of winning than a less talented player.” he said. Dr. Broman concluded by saying that it is impossible for a player to win money at Hold’ Em poker without having some knowledge of the game.