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Legalize betting for online poker?

A bill in Congress to allow betting for online poker is based on the notion that poker is mainly a game of skill. Fat chance.

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A 2006 law effectively blocks all types of Internet gambling by Americans, largely to prevent a rise in gambling addiction that online betting can easily lead to. Strong attempts to overturn the law have so far failed. Now a bill in Congress aims to open a crack in that wall. It would legalize only one type: online poker.

What’s the key argument for letting Americans bet on their favorite card game?

Poker is predominately a game of skill, proponents say, in which players compete with each other, not the house. Chance is only a distant factor – perhaps 12 percent over many hands, according to one study – at least for those considered skilled.

The bill’s advocates say players may get cards by a random deal, but the best of them are able to beat the inherent odds by using math, bluffing and reading their opponents, betting astutely, and knowing when to fold. They equate the game with Scrabble in that age-old debate over skill versus chance in many games.

The Justice Department, at least for now, isn’t buying it. In April, it indicted three giant poker websites in other countries under the 2006 law. (Poker itself is legal; it is the money side that isn’t.)

In state courts, meanwhile, many judges have ruled that poker involves too much chance to not be seen as gambling. That trend in rulings may change, however, with an aggressive push by the million-member-strong Poker Players Alliance to make betting on the game legal. And many new statistical studies try to show how, over many hands of play, skill can dominate the game.

Big money is involved in this effort. Many states, hungry for revenue, want a federal law allowing it. One estimate is that states could bring in $3 billion.

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