Sponsor of New York Online Poker Bill Says Poker IS NOT a Game of Skill

Steve Ruddock : June 23rd, 2016

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In an interview with PokerNews.com, New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow had some interesting things to say about the game of poker. In the interview, Pretlow tried to expalin why, in his opinion, a bill that would have legalized online poker wasn’t voted on by the Assembly, despite passing by a 53-5 margin in the New York State Senate.

Pretlow, who was the sponsor of an identical online poker bill in the New York Assembly, claimed the problem was one of skill, actually, in the case of poker, a lack thereof.

If you like hot takes you’ve come to the right place, because Pretlow came in with a real scorcher:

“When you’re gambling, there’s a bet, and if you change the bet the odds change based on who is betting,” Pretlow told PokerNews.com. “That’s gambling. In DFS, you pay an entry fee — $5 or $10, or whatever — and you’re locked in. You can’t change it. Even though the house takes a percentage of the overall pool, whatever is in the prize pool is the prize. You know what the prize is before you get in it.

“In poker, you’re betting and you’re changing the bet by raising. That’s gambling. In my legislative finding, I found DFS is not gambling. I can’t find that poker is not gambling.”

I completely understand if you need some time to digest what Pretlow just said.

Pretlow’s Island

Setting aside the existence of poker tournaments, which have predetermined, “locked in,” entry fees, there are the numerous times poker has been declared a game of skill by:

Basically, Gary Pretlow is in the extreme minority when it comes to classifying poker as a game of skill or chance, and he’s the only inhabitant on a deserted island who thinks the reason poker isn’t a game of skill is because you can adjust your wager.

Pretlow’s reason is complete BS

Pretlow isn’t the first person to try to argue poker isn’t a game of skill. FanDuel CFO Matt King made the same claim in a Frontline interview back in February.

But Pretlow’s reasoning for declaring DFS skill but not poker is beyond the pale. King at least pointed to the randomness of a deck of cards, whereas Pretlow believes the capability to adjust your wager mid-stream is why poker is not a game of skill, but DFS, with its static lineups is.

The problem is, adjusting your future investment in a hand would increase the skillfulness of the game, not decrease it. The more meaningful decisions one has to make directly correlates with the skillfulness of the game.

What Pretlow is trying to argue is that it’s more skillful to predetermine how much you’ll risk over the course of a hand before the flop, turn, and river are dealt, and if poker were played this way, it would be a game of skill – you get two cards and you place a wager, and then you just sit back and watch the board cards dealt out and whoever has the best hand wins… Easy game.

Another way to put it, what he’s saying is betting your friend $10 and cutting for high card is more skillful than Texas Holdem.

This is utter hogwash. What makes poker so skillful is the ability to cut your losses or up the stakes based on how the hand is playing out, for a variety of different reasons. Furthermore, one reason for these changing wagers, the ability to bluff, adds to the skillfulness, allowing an adept player the capability to win with the worst hand by causing his opponent to fold and forfeit the pot.

Lessons from backgammon

In my opinion, the best way to refute Pretlow’s claims is by looking at another clear-cut game of skill, backgammon.

In a backgammon match to say seven points, when a player feels he has an advantage over his opponent he can employ the doubling cube, which, if accepted, makes the current game worth two points instead of one. If the other player declines the double he forfeits the match for a single point – similar to folding what you believe to be a losing hand in poker. The other player also has the option to (immediately or down the road) double the match again, making it worth four points. This doubling can go on and on.

This aspect of backgammon is what Pretlow would call changing the bet during play, as you’re increasing the worth of the game based on how the match is playing out.

Look at the opposite side of the coin

There is also another way to refute Pretlow’s claims, and that’s by looking at other games with “locked in” wagers.

Roulette, a slot machine, a lottery ticket. Using Pretlow’s litmus test of static wagers determining skill, these games would all be considered games of skill.

What is the wager in poker?

I have one final bone to pick with Pretlow’s assessment of skill, which is his assertion that poker players are changing their bets.

As noted above, you don’t change the money at risk in a poker tournament. You buy-in and that’s your wager. It would be extremely hard for Pretlow to argue a poker tournament isn’t a game of skill based on his own explanation of why DFS is a game of skill.

Furthermore, you don’t really change the money you wager in a cash game either. The amount you bought in for (or the amount you currently have in front of you on the table) is what you’re willing to wager. The difference is, for the most part, you determine when and how much of it you wager. You cannot increase your wager by going into your pocket for more money, and you cannot decrease your potential wager by taking money off the table.

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