The Italian Supreme Court held that live poker Texas Hold’em tournaments are a skill game and therefore their performance does not trigger an illegal gambling activity provided that they comply with some requirements.
As previously reported, the award of live poker licenses in Italy was expected to occur at the beginning of 2013 but for some unclear reasons, this has not occurred yet. As a consequence of that and given the unclarity of the current scenario, a number of poker clubs are still organizing live poker tournament whose legality has been challenged in some cases by the competent courts.
As part of an interim proceeding subsequent to the seizure of a poker club where live poker tournaments were taking place, the Italian Supreme Court had the opportunity to hold that:
“traditional” poker games are a gambling game but
remote poker tournament games are a skill game and
live poker Texas Hold’em tournaments are a skill game provided that such tournaments are arranged so that
there is a fixed buy-in without the possibility of performing re-buys,
players are granted with the same amount of chips of nominal value and
prizes (in cash or in kind) are predetermined.
No specific reference in the decisions is made to cash poker games, but based on the reasoning of the court it is more likely that they will be deemed to be a game of chance falling in the category of “traditional” poker since according to the decision the element of chance would in such case prevail over the ability of the player.
Indeed, the reasoning of the court is that if all the players are provided with the same chance of winning the final prize by means of the same amount of chips provided at the beginning of the game as it occurs in case of poker tournament games, the ability of the player will become more important, while on the contrary in cash poker games where players can play the chips that they decide to bring to the table the element of chance might prevail.
The reasoning of the court is arguable, but what really matters for the Italian gaming market is that such decision might further foster the regulator to introduce live poker regulations. Indeed, it appears more and more evident that such lack of regulations is allowing the performance of live poker games with no control. And therefore the opportunity to protect players which might be the reason of such delay becomes a weaker argument if such tournaments are in any case performed and according to such court decision their performance cannot be challenged.