Game of Chance? Or Skill?

Which is it? Is poker primarily a game of chance, where wining and losing is simply determined by the shuffling and cutting of the deck, or picking the lucky seat? Or a game of skill, where reads, analysis and decision-making make the difference between winners and losers?

A new article at describes an unexpected argument for the former, that winning at poker is just plain luck. The storyline is that 2010 WSOP Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel wants to avoid being taxed on his poker winnings. Duhamel is a Canadian (native of Quebec) and under Canada’s tax laws (unlike the U.S.), earnings from games of chance are not taxable.

The Canada Revenue Agency argues that Duhamel was operating a business, including income from a PokerStars sponsorship, income via action swapping with other players, income from his own play, use of an agent, declarations that he is a professional poker player, and the absence of other sources of earned income.

This is the Jonathan Duhamel who defeated John Racener to win the Main Event and $8.9+ million in 2010, along with two more WSOP bracelets in 2015.

The same Jonathan Duhamel with a reported 107 cashes leading to $18.0+ million in live tournament winnings according to the Hendon Mob database, good for 33rd on the all-time money list.

The same Jonathan Duhamel who was robbed and severely beaten at his home, with his Main Event bracelet, a Rolex watch and approximately $150K in cash stolen. This eventually led to a 42 month jail term for his ex-girlfriend. Was this some sort of revenge crime?

The same Jonathan Duhamel who has been accused of sexual assault by an anonymous woman via Twitter, with corroboration from several other sources.

Back to his taxes and the argument that poker is strictly a game of chance. Anybody who’s won money consistently over time playing poker knows this is categorically false. Anybody who wants poker to be divorced from slot machines, roulette, craps and other casino games believes this is categorically false. Anybody who advocates for full legalization of online poker and decriminalization of private home games will insist this is categorically false.

When Duhamel argues that poker is a game of skill, he demeans his own impressive accomplishments as a poker player. Does he not respect the game itself? Is he treating poker in a manner analogous to his apparent treatment of women… a means to short-term gratification but otherwise unworthy of an enduring two-way relationship?

Just good luck? Nah… not unless he wins this argument in tax court. Now that would be lucky!

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