A new concept poker site called Skillbet has claimed that it is 100% legal for players in the 28 US states to play on. Well, it’s a poker site, but not as we know it. The way they get around the gambling laws in the United States is by the use of bots. Sound weird? Let me explain: A human player sits down at a six seater table with five computer generated players and plays poker with them. Another player sits in and plays exactly the same hands against exactly the same players, with the same hole cards and the same community cards. If one player makes $10 more from the hand than the other, the player who did worse owes the other guy $10.
Skillbet claims that this variation on the game completely removes the element of chance from the outcome of the game, thereby making it legal by the letter of the law in 28 states. Given the credentials of the founder Marc Zwillinger, you’d be inclined to take his word for it. He’s a Harvard lawyer who used to be the head of internet gaming enforcement for the Department of Justice, the same team that brought down Full Tilt Poker.
The site has two types of game, the Skillbet Challenge pits you against a friend for 30 hands and whoever wins the most money wins the entire prize pool. In the Skillbet Live games, the amount your win or loss is determined by your performance relative to your opponent. The site claims that “Many of these computer players are using amazing artificial intelligence that would beat the vast majority of online poker players today”, but when you play a little bit, you’ll see that this isn’t exactly true. Whether or not it is entirely a game of skill isn’t completely black and white though. Take the example where at both tables, the computer player goes all in on the turn with a set, and one player folds his flush draw because he is getting incorrect pot odds; player B makes the bad call and makes a flush on the river. He got lucky to win more than player A in the hand.
They have solved the problem of collusion in what has been tagged as ‘duplicate poker’ by simply keeping the heads-up, where collusion isn’t an issue. In fact the collusion was part of the reason of the downfall of the Duplicate Poker site, which failed in 2008.
It’s hard to see Skillbet succeeding where others have failed, but they’re putting a lot of resources into trying it out.