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Online gaming platforms want their users to believe that their products are a game of skill. Are they really?- Technology News, Firstpost

This article is a part of a larger series on Online Gaming in India. The previous article deals with what exactly is the difference between a game of skill and a game of luck. Click here to read the article.

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

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 outcome of the game. Image Credit: Pexels

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 to be 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. A game of chance, on the other hand, 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 all over the world, “games may be of chance, or of skill, or of skill and chance combined.” 

So while there are three kinds of games, online games are classified into just two types – one which has minimal or negligible randomness factor, and another having a random event or count generators which 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 centres around the degree to which luck plays a role in the outcome of the game. 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 greatly 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 of these games, the initial cards dealt to players can be considered a matter of chance, but it is the player’s ability to use their skills and knowledge to make strategic decisions that ultimately determine the outcome of the game. 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 simply 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 one that gets presented in the final showdown can change the direction of the game 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 whatsoever. 

One has to ponder, in such a scenario, are skills really relevant to the final outcome of the game? 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 favour 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 unfavourable 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 outcome of the game.

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

This article is a part of a larger series on Online Gaming in India. Click here to read the other articles that are a part of this series.

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