ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS WANT THEIR USERS TO BELIEVE THAT THEIR PRODUCTS ARE A GAME OF SKILL. ARE THEY REALLY?

Online games like rummy, poker, and fantasy leagues have become increasingly popular in recent years, mainly because of the pandemic, with millions of people playing these games for fun and real money. While these games have been enjoyed for years, whether they are games of skill or luck remains a topic of debate.

In India, the legality of online games like rummy and poker is a matter of much-heated debate. While the government has declared in-shore online games as legal and games of skill, there are a lot of people who believe that such online games are games of chance. Even the government of India wants to tax them at the same rate that they tax games of luck, sending some mixed signals.

In general, a game is considered a game of skill if the outcome is determined by the player’s ability to use their knowledge, training, and expertise to make strategic decisions. On the other hand, a game of chance is one where the outcome is determined purely by luck, with no element of skill involved.

Some examples of games of skill include chess, backgammon, and bridge. These games require players to use their knowledge of the game’s rules and strategies to outsmart their opponents and increase their chances of winning. In contrast, games of chance include roulette, slot machines, and lottery games. These games rely entirely on luck, with no skill involved.

According to the popular reference source, the Black’s Law Dictionary, widely used by attorneys, judges, and scholars worldwide, “games may be of chance, or skill, or of skill and chance combined.”

So while there are three kinds of games, online games are classified into just two types – one with minimal or negligible randomness factor and another with random event or count generators that are pseudo-random and are addictively designed.

When it comes to online games like rummy and poker, the debate on whether they are games of skill or chance often centers around the degree to which luck plays a role in the game’s outcome. While it is true that the initial cards dealt to players in these games can be a matter of chance, it is also true that the player’s ability to make strategic decisions and use their skills can significantly influence the outcome of the game.

For instance, in a game of rummy, players are dealt a hand of cards, and they must use their knowledge of the rules and strategies of the game to form valid sets and sequences. This requires players to think strategically and use their card-playing skills to increase their chances of winning. Similarly, in a game of poker, players must use their knowledge of the rules, hand rankings, and betting strategies to outsmart their opponents and increase their chances of winning.

In both games, the initial cards dealt to players can be considered a matter of chance. Still, the player’s ability to use their skills and knowledge to make strategic decisions ultimately determines the game’s outcome. This makes these games more like games of skill than games of chance.

In all of these games, however, there is the component of luck or chance that one cannot ignore. In a game like a poker, whether you play it online or in real life, a single card, drawn either from the deck or presented in the showdown, can change the game’s direction completely. Similarly, in fantasy leagues, you are betting on the performance of the members of your make-believe team, something over which you have no control.

One must ponder that skills are relevant to the game’s outcome in such a scenario. It is a bit weird that when we speak of poker, we are speaking of it in terms of a game of skill, whereas the general perception is that it is, in fact, a game of luck.

A player may use all the skills in the world to stack the deck in their favor as much as they can, but if there is even a single element that can change the play or direction of the game to an unfavorable outcome, it becomes a game of luck.

The problem arises when online gaming platforms club together a bunch of games which may very well be games of skills, along with other games that are purely games of luck. Fantasy leagues and many online gaming platforms find themselves in a position where it is legally critical for them to be perceived as games of skill, where luck has zero chance of influencing the game’s outcome.

And even if they are purely a game of skill, the following problem is the premise that anyone can win big. These two claims contradict each other to a great extent. If anyone can win significantly, irrespective of their proficiency with the game and skill level, it is a game of luck. On the other hand, if it is a game of skill, only people skilled in it can win. See how this becomes even more confusing?

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