Poker crackdown reaches Supreme Court

Winning at poker - is it mainly a question of skill or of luck? That is to be decided in a case that opened at Sweden's Supreme Court on Tuesday. Poker players hope the outcome could lead to more competition for Sweden's state-owned gambling monopoly.

The case concerns a poker tournament that was held in Grebbestad in western Sweden in March 2007. The prize sum was over a million kronor, or 155,000 US dollars, and nearly seven hundred people had gathered, which makes it one of the biggest of its kind in Europe.

But after a few hours the tournament was interrupted by police, and a month later six men - who had arrange it all - stood trial for serious illicit gambling.

The district court convicted several of the men, but in the court of appeals, they were acquitted.

In the ruling, the appeals court argued that if you are to win a game of Texas Hold'em, played over several days, it is more skill than chance that decides the outcome.

Now the case has reached the supreme court, as it has been deemed as principally important.

Hedvig Trost represents the prosecution and she agrees that poker is a game where both chance and skill is important.

"A successful pokerplayer does need skill, and for each game you will improve if you are good at judging likeliness and know something about the psychology of your opponent. Nevertheless, which cards you are given is completely random," she says.

Per Hildebrand is one of the men of trial, as his poker company sponsored the tournament four years ago. He says chance DOES decide which cards you are dealt, but poker is not a game of one hand, but over a whole series of rounds.

"From my experience as a professional gambler I know that some people always win, so you should avoid playing against them, while others always lose. The word "always" may need some qualification, but say it would be true 8 times out of 10.. If people can live off it and win year after year, it is pretty clear to most people that a pretty high degree of skill is involved," says Per Hildebrand.

The exact wording of ruling will be important as it sets a precedence. Poker players hope that a not-guilty verdict could open up for a change in the law to allow for professional tournaments also outside the state run casinos.

At the moment, however, the Gaming Board for Sweden as well as another supreme court ruling, state that such tournaments are against the gambling law and therefore illegal.

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