Surprise ruling could have interesting implications
Despite an existing Dutch High Court ruling that poker is a game of chance, a Dutch court this week delivered a contrary judgement, finding that the game is one predominantly of skill and not chance, thus taking it outside the definition of gambling.
The ruling could have implications for the tightly controlled Dutch gambling market, dominated by a state monopoly which has enjoyed success in court actions defending its sovereignty recently (see previous InfoPowa reports). The state immediately notified its intention to appeal the decision.
The case involved a criminal prosecution against professional poker player Stefan van Zadelhoff, who was accused of organising illegal Texas Hold-em tournaments, but acquitted following expert evidence that poker was a game predominantly of skill and therefore fell outside the ‘games of chance' element in the definition of gambling.
In effect, the ruling could free up the holding of poker tournaments within existing laws.
In the Netherlands, competitive gambling companies both on and offline have been refused licensing, protecting the monopoly held by the Holland Casino. The exclusion of competition, particularly internet cross-border competition, has generated litigation by companies from other EU nations, so far without real success.
It has been estimated that as many as 500 000 Dutch residents gamble online despite the licensing restrictions, generating some Euro 450 million in revenues, and much of this action is placed with allegedly ‘illegal' online poker websites, most of them outside the Netherlands.
In 2008 the Dutch Senate voted down proposals that would have granted the state-run operator a three-year exclusive license to operate internet gaming in the Netherlands, and in June this year the European Courts of Justice confirmed the government's sovereignty in excluding online operators licensed in other EU nations.
The industry is currently awaiting the publication of a study of internet gambling commissioned by the government.
In a similar skill vs. chance case in Denmark, the Supreme Court overruled on appeal a decision by a lower court that poker was a game of skill, justifying its finding by claiming that the lower court's ruling, if allowed to stand, would effectively deregulate poker, which was not in the public interest.