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Poker Expert Witness Testifies in Wisconsin Court

Advocates for legalized poker in Wisconsin have called upon a poker expert witness to sign an affidavit testifying that the game is based largely on skill rather than chance.  An organization sponsoring the legal poker movement filed a request for declaratory action from a Wisconsin judge that affirms the game’s status as one of skill in order to avoid a state law banning gambling on games of chance.

Wisconsin Law Prohibits Games of Chance

The legal action stems from a Wisconsin anti-gambling law that bans all games of chance from the state, however, poker is not specifically addressed.  According to the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), “The language in the statute does not specifically speak to poker but does say that a bet does not include ‘bona fide contests of skill’ – which by recent federal and state rulings, scientific studies and our general knowledge, poker is clearly such a contest and therefore should not be included in Wisconsin’s definition of gambling and should be as legal to play for money as pool, darts, golf or other contests of skill.”

The PPA is hoping to legalize poker and improve the quality of live and online versions of the game throughout the state of Wisconsin, and has called upon poker expert Robert C. Hannum to provide written testimony supporting the position that poker is a game of skill.

Poker Expert Witness Supports Legalization

Hannum is a poker expert who has consulted with states including Connecticut, Iowa, and Mississippi about how the game is played in order to support legal poker initiatives.  As he explains in his affidavit, he has conducted numerous poker studies and has come to the conclusion that success in poker is driven primarily by the skill of the players.  Noting that even traditionally accepted games of skill, such as golf or baseball, can rely on incidents of chance, Hannum argues that a game should be evaluated one of skill if the predominate requirement for success is the ability of the contestents.

Like the PPA, Hannum argues that poker is not a game of chance, but instead depends almost entirely on the skill of the players.  In his affidavit to the Wisconsin court, Hannum wrote, “It is my considered opinion, based on my experience, on research that I have personally conducted, and on a review of the scholarly literature, that Texas hold’em is a game in which skill predominates over chance in determining the outcome.  Thus, in my opinion, it would be incorrect to describe Texas hold’em as a game of chance.”

Hannum went on to write, “Put another way: the question of whether skill or chance predominates in Texas hold’em is the same as asking whether the deal of the cards or the decisions of the players constitute the predominant factor in determining the outcome of the game. In my opinion Texas hold’em is not a game of chance because the decisions of the players have a much larger impact on the outcome than the deal of the cards.”

Poker Research Highlights Affidavit

Hannum’s expert opinion is formed after years of researching poker to find that the skill of the player has a significant and consistent effect on the outcome of the game – indicating that poker is not simply based on the luck of the draw.  Relying on a database of more than one billion hands of real online poker played by close to 2 million players, Hannum and his fellow researchers found that “virtually all of the variation in players’ returns on investment (ROI’s) from playing Texas Hold ‘em can be attributed to something other than systemic chance.”  Hannum has also run computer simulations pitting two players of unequal skill against each other and concluded through mathematical analysis that a skilled player will “win 96.8 percent of hands outright” by employing strategy the unskilled player cannot follow.

Hannum’s full expert witness affidavit can be found here, and represents a unique use of expert research supplementing a legal argument.