IS POKER “a gambling game, pure and simple”, as a judge in Louisiana called it in a much-cited 1910 judgment? Or is it a game in which skill plays an important role? The answer may help determine whether online poker games should be covered by a law that prohibits Americans from gambling over the web.
So far, judges have tended to agree with the 1910 precedent. Future rulings will determine the prospects of a $6 billion industry. Yet there has been very little research into this subject, in part because of the paucity of data.
A new study by an economist, Steve Levitt, author of “Freakonomics”, and Thomas Miles, his Chicago University colleague, uses data on those who took part in the 2010 World Series of Poker, an annual contest in Las Vegas. Last year it attracted over 32,000 players and gave out more than $185m in prize money. Because the tournament is open to anyone who pays the entry fee, its participants have varying levels of experience and differing records of success or failure.
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