The case stems from a multi-million-kronor poker tournament involving 700 people which took place in Grebbestad in western Sweden in March 2007.
In April 2008, the Uddevala District Court sentenced two men, ages 35 and 37, to six months and eight months in jail, respectively, and two others, ages 52 and 56, were fined the equivalent of 80 days pay.
But the Court of Appeal for Western Sweden reduced the charges and sentences for all four men.
The two men who received jail time instead received suspended sentences, with the 35-year-old also receiving a fine equivalent for 60 days pay, while the charges for both men were changed from serious illegal gambling down to illegal gambling crimes.
However the drunk driving conviction and consequent month-long prison sentence for 37-year-old remained in place.
In addition, the other two men were exonerated completely by the appeals court.
The main reason for the court’s decision to reduce the men’s crimes and penalties was the fact that the tournament involved the poker game Texas Hold’em.
In order to be convicted of serious illegal gambling crimes, it is necessary for the game being played depend to a substantial degree on chance rather than a player’s skill.
The Court of Appeal concluded in its ruling that during a tournament of the sort arranged in Grebbestad, a player could be dealt up to 40 hands, or sets of cards, to play.
During a long tournament, the importance of chance plays a smaller role in the game’s outcome, and thus a player’s skill becomes more important.
Thus, according to the court, the tournament in question was so large that the players’ own ability to analyze the game was more important than what sort of cards they were dealt.
The Grebbestad tournament also included a large number of side games, however, which allowed players who had been eliminated from the main tournament to continue to play against one another.
These smaller, shorter games involved a significantly lower number of dealt hands, which the court therefore believed increased the importance of chance in determining the outcome, which is why the charges of regular, rather than serious, illegal gambling, still applied.
However, there is nothing in the investigation which shows that the representatives from the conference centre where the tournament was held, or the sponsoring gaming company were involved in arranging the side games, and as a result, they were not charged with any crimes.
According to Dan Glimne, a known poker expert and author of gaming books who was called by the defence to testify during the trial, the court’s ruling will likely lead others to arrange professional poker tournaments in direct competition with Casino Cosmopol, a subsidiary of the Svenska Spel state gaming monopoly which operates four casinos in Sweden.
Glimme welcomed the court’s decision to view the main tournament as a game of skill rather than a game of chance.
“Today poker has been given a national holiday in Sweden. We poker players think it’s great that poker has been given equal footing with backgammon, bridge, and chess,” he told the TT news agency.
He believes that large gaming companies are now thinking over exactly how they can profit from the ruling.
“Within a few months we’re going to see something big,” he said.