Saturday, May 05, 2007

Rhetoric of law

Unless you're the President or Attorney General of the United States, law has a huge effect on your life and how you're allowed to live it. Law rules your life and activities with a somewhat iron fist. It's not entirely iron, it's just as hard and tight as iron, but it lacks the clear form of iron. Law is formed from rhetoric.

Law has no requirement to actually make any sense. A lot of people have trouble with that -- both lawyers and non-lawyers alike try hard to make sense of law. The whole legal industry is built around the attempt to make sense of it. So we fool ourselves into thinking it does make sense.

That's the only thing I can figure is driving this nonsense debate about whether poker is a game of predominantly skill over chance. It matters because some laws make a distinction between games of skill and games of chance. But just because a low makes such a distinction doesn't mean that it's a real distinction.

It's not real. It's nonsense. Lou Krieger has another post about it, the whole post is written with the presumption that it actually means something to contrast skill and chance. Assuming something is true does not make it true.

Lou is so busy supporting the rhetoric that he gives an argument that he thinks supports the side that poker is a predominately skill game, but the argument actually supports the side that poker is predominately a game of chance.
Most of the legal wrangling centered on determining the preponderance of skill or luck in poker. In my opinion, determining skill versus luck is not a function of looking at any given hand, but one of bounding the issue. In other words, how long does a game of poker take?
Before I get to the whole arguement, I have to comment on the rhetoric part of it. Bounding the issue? What the hell does that mean? It certainly sounds like it means something (good rhetoric usually does), but it doesn't really mean anything in this context (depending on your goals, good rhetoric can intentionally have no meaning).

Elsewhere in the post Lou points to a couple of academics as possible saviors in the debate. Economist Steve Levitt of the University of Chicago and Stat/OR guy Jay Kadane of Carnegie-Mellon. Both well known math/dweeb type academic research guys who have shown interest in various issues about skill in games. In that context bounding might refer to the idea of bounded, as in bounded sets or bounded rationality. That basically refers to imposing limits.

So he wants to put limits on the issue? No, he wants to treat the question as a question posed in the long-term, in unbounded time.
If you were to conclude that each hand constitutes a “game,” then poker is surely a game where luck predominates. But if a “game” is construed as lasting a year, or five years, or ten years, or even a lifetime, then skill prevails. In the long run, a player’s results tend to mirror his or her expectation — for better or for worse.

In other words, if you play poker long enough, you figure to reap what you sow. In the short run, anything can happen.

So rather than bounding the timeframe he looks at, he wants to look at the long run, an unbounded time frame.

But what skill there is in poker isn't applied to the long run, it's applied over the long run, a bet at a time. Each bet requires the application of gambling skill. Each bet doesn't stand alone in the sense that a sequence of bets aren't independent.

From a point of view of government regulation, the gambling operator normally offers the game a hand at a time -- not only can players come and go between hands but the fee is collected at the hand level (sometimes at the level of half hour increments).

According to Lou's argument that means poker is primarily a game of chance. Good argument Lou.

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