Recently, the District Court discussed the legality of the Texas Hold’em Poker game. This was due to a criminal appeal against a Magistrate Court’s verdict in regards to the charges that were served against the appellant and her husband, for organizing a Texas Hold’em Poker tournament in their apartment. The appeal dealt with only one question – is Texas Hold’em Poker illegal or not; more precisely – does the element of luck override the element of skill in this game, as the state claims or does skill override luck, as the appellant claims. According to Israeli law, the element of chance has to be the decisive factor in a game for it to be considered gambling (on top of additional factors required, which will not be discussed here).
The claims of the appellant in this matter were based, inter alia, on the opinion of a professor from the Bar Ilan University, who is a specialist in probability.
The District Court rejected the appeal and ruled that the Texas Hold’em Poker game is an illegal game, as the element of luck is the deciding factor in the game. The Court ruled that the above issue needs to be determined by examining just one Poker game, and not a Poker tournament, considering the language of the Penal Law. Accordingly, the use of bluffing during the game does not change this conclusion, since this ability has long term significance and is not relevant for a single Poker game.
This verdict has significant importance; firstly, the Israeli jurisprudence with regards to the main element of Poker – luck or skill, was until today very limited. Secondly, the District Court’s verdict dealt head on with the main claims on this issue and with the opinion of a professor of probability, and ruled that the element of luck overrides the element of skill in the game. This ruling will affect the organizers of games and tournaments of Texas Hold’em Poker games as well as the players – since the organization of the games is illegal and participating as a player is a criminal offence.
However, it is important to mention that this verdict dealt with a game that took place in the apartment of the appellant and her husband and not with online Poker; at least with regards to online Poker we cannot disqualify the argument that there has to be a renewed examination of the issue, perhaps leaving room for a different verdict in respect of such.