NY Assemblyman Gary Pretlow Says Fantasy Sports Is a Game of Skill, But Poker Is Not
New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow made a statement this week which is bound to offend many American poker players. Gary Pretlow failed in his attempt to pass an online poker bill in the New York State Assembly.
At the same time, Pretlow had been able to get enough votes for a similar daily fantasy sports bill. When asked why he was able to pass DFS, but not online poker, Assemblyman Pretlow suggested it was because poker was not a game of skill.
Poker Not a Game of Skill?
When asked about the difference in poker and fantasy sports, Pretlow pointed to the raising of bets in poker. Pretlow said, “When you’re gambling [on cards], there’s a bet, and if you change the bet the odds change based on who is betting. 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.”
Poker As a Skill
Card players are likely to point to other facets of poker to show it is a game of skill. Poker professionals have been known to exist for generations. Using entirely legal means, these men and women have been able to make a living playing cards. Unless there was a skill to player poker, that would not be possible without an in-house advantage (which does not exist).
For a poker player to be successful over the long term, that player must be able to read their opponents’ tendencies. An intuition of their motives at any step of the game is important. That means a poker player needs to calculate the odds at each stage of a hand, and thus needs mathematical skills. Also, the poker player needs the ability to pull off bluffs, or look weak at the right time during the game, in order to set traps. Acting ability, or the ability to mask one’s motives, is important.
Game of Skill or Chance?
Given the need to have all these various abilities to succeed, it is no wonder that serious poker players consider their version of gambling to be a game of skill. It is repeatable and dependable, if the card player uses his or her set of skills to optimal advantage.
That is not the public image of poker for the casual observer, though. Televised Texas hold’em usually shows the most dramatic moments of an event. That often is when bad beats happen, when luck is at its most evident. Also, the sheer number of amateur players attending the World Series of Poker Main Event every years assures that rank amateurs sometimes win the tournament, because they simply outnumber the professionals 100 to 1.
While skill would assure that a pro poker player would beat those amateurs enough of the time to make a living, that does not mean they are going to win every time.
Daily Fantasy Sports as a Skill Game
50 million Americans a year play fantasy sports. Lawmakers no doubt are among that demographic. Any observant fantasy sports player realizes their local leagues have perennial favorites, along with a few rubes. It’s been said that fantasy football is always a game of skill when you win, but it’s always luck when you lose. Despite that observation, anyone who has played fantasy football is likely to buy the argument that there’s skill involved.
The numbers prove that contention, too. Arguments against DraftKings and FanDuel have suggested that 91% of the winnings go to a small percentage of grinders. Though that is supposed to make the game look unfair, it actually underscores the fact that daily fantasy sports is a game of skill which can be beaten, if you have the right statistical models and spend enough time learning how to win (most do not).
New York State Senate Votes
The New York Senate did not see the issue the same way the Assembly did. The Senate passed an online poker bill earlier in the month. The New York Senate passed a similar measure back in 2013, becoming the first US state legislative body to pass a gambling bill in the post-UIGEA era. Once again, the Assembly failed to pass the 2013 bill, as well.
What might have been lost in the discussion was a second excuse that Assemblyman Pretlow gave. He also mentioned that the New York Senate’s June 14 passage of the online poker bill did not leave its proponents in the Assembly much time to cobble together a winning coalition.
Why Only Online Poker?
The New York State Constitution makes state lotteries, horse racing, and casinos as the only legal forms of gaming. Because of that, proponents of gaming in the state legislature have focused on online poker, instead of online casinos (like New Jersey).
Their argument is that poker is a game of skill. Thus, the issue of whether poker is skill-based or chance-based is the key to passage in New York State.
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