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Study could prompt UK government to tax poker winnings 25/03/2015
The authors of a new study backing that theory say their findings could prompt the government to consider taxing players' winnings.

Researchers analysed hundreds of millions of online plays to discover 'substantial evidence' of skill's role in a successful game.

Drawing on a database of 456 million player-hand observations from a year's worth of online games, academics discovered players who ranked in the top-performing ten per cent in the first six months were more than twice as likely as others to do similarly well in the next six months.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham, working with colleagues from Erasmus University Rotterdam and VU University Amsterdam, also noted that players who finished in the top one per cent in the first half of the year were 12 times more likely than others to repeat the feat in the second half.

The findings could leave card sharps ready to throw in their hand - and the taxman rubbing his hands with glee.

Poker is among the most popular internet games in the UK, with leading bookmakers and other big-name operators running sites attracting millions of players.

H2 Gambling Capital, a leading consultancy in the gaming industry, calculated that in 2013 alone online poker rooms generated more than £2bn in winnings, with expert players often taking part in multiple online games at once.

The academics ran tens of thousands of simulations, pitching the best performing players in the sample against the worst and comparing their respective winnings.

Over the course of just a few hands the better-performing players fared better only slightly more than half the time.

But their success rate gradually increased until they 1,471 hands had been played, when they fared better at least 75 per cent of the time.

Dr Dennie van Dolder, of the University of Nottingham's School of Economics, said the study showed 'skilled players will consistently outperform less skilled players if enough hands...are played.'

The expert in behavioural and experimental economics said that if, as the study found, performance is predictable, 'then it follows that poker involves an element of skill and can't be merely a game of pure chance.'

Writer and TV presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell, one of Britain's top professional players, has won more than £1.5m - including £400,000 at a single event.

Dr van Dolder said his study's findings could now have 'significant legal implications' for such people.

He added: 'It's up to legislators to decide whether the role of chance diminishes fast enough for poker to be considered a game of skill. If so then our findings represent both good and bad news for players.

'The good news is they'll have the satisfaction of knowing the game they love is recognised as requiring real skill.

'The bad news is that one day they might have to start handing some of their winnings to the taxman if the policymaking community takes notice of findings like ours.'

The research contradicts a 2012 study by Professor Gerhard Meyer, of the University of Bremen's Institute of Psychology and Cognition Research, which suggested that poker was largely a game of chance.

In that study, 300 poker players took part, playing 60 hands each on tables of six. They were divided into 'expert' and 'average' players, and their ability to make money from good, bad and average hands was assessed.

As expected, 'expert' players lost less money on bad hands, but did no better than 'average' players on mediocre hands - and made slightly less on good ones. Prof Meyer concluded that 'poker players overestimate the skill factor in their play'.

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