French Criminal first instance Court of Toulouse (“Tribunal Correctionnel”) has upheld in a decision dated July 20, 2011 that poker is not a game of chance but a game of skills. With this decision, the court reverses a string of constant case law dating back to a Supreme Court (“Cour de Cassation”) decision of 1877.

The facts

In France like in many other countries, the offer of gambling activities, i.e. games of chance, is strictly limited. Games of chance are defined as games played for a fee and in which chance will prevail over skills to obtain monetary gain. As a result, only a limited number of licensed operators may offer such gambling activities, including brick and mortar casinos and to a certain extent online gambling operators (however limited to poker, sports betting and horse betting).

In that instance, the defendants were accused of having organised private poker competitions in public venues without a licence. Although there was also a tax issue, the real issue at stake was really the definition of Texas Hold’Em poker to determine whether it falls within the prohibition of the law or not.

The ruling is rather original since it only relies on the opinions of three experts:

  • A professional poker player, regularly top-ranked in national and international competitions;
  • A bridge and chess player, several times national champion; and
  • A poker player and professor in

mathematics.

The Court briefly indicates at the end of the ruling that these expert opinions have convinced the judges. As a result, the defendants shall be found not guilty since no evidence has been brought that poker is actually a game of chance.

What to think about it

This decision follows a trend supported by a number of stakeholders in the poker industry. In France, no such rulings had ever been made before, however, the Court of Appeal of Versailles had opened a first breach in 2009 by saying, with respect to poker, that chance disappears only with the multiplication of hands played. The Court had finally defined poker as “a reasoned game of chance”.

The impact of the present decision shall however be severely put into perspective. First, the public prosecutor has lodged an appeal. There is little doubt that the prosecutor’s argumentation in appeal will include additional evidence that poker shall be considered as a game of chance. Second, this decision is almost exclusively based on the expert opinions presented by the defendants. One may question whether the Court of Appeal will consider these testimonies reliable. In particular since, under French law, the probatory force of testimonies is fairly limited. Third, only TexasHold’Em is concerned by the present decision.

In any event, this decision is remarkable as it is the first of its kind. Of course, it is also the only one of its kind and gambling remains a very sensitive issue in France. Therefore, one will have to wait for the Appeal decision and/or other court rulings on this question to assess whether there is a chance that poker could definitely be considered a game of skills We can only imagine the impact of such change on the face of the gambling industry in France. Stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted...