USBGF has sent the following letter to Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ):
On behalf of the United States Backgammon Federation (USBGF) and the millions of Americans who play backgammon, we write to encourage you to regulate backgammon in the same manner as poker in your draft proposed legislation, the Internet Gambling Prohibition,Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2012. The USBGF is a not-for-profit organization devoted to advancing the awareness, participation, education and enjoyment of the skill-based game of backgammon. It seeks growth and opportunities for players at all levels. The USGBF has established lectures, lesson series, college and high school clubs and national competitions to promote the intellectual pursuit of backgammon.
Your draft legislation would address Internet gaming in a comprehensive manner, providing important consumer protections and establishing a framework for states to build on by regulating online poker. The proposed legislation makes a critical finding differentiating poker from casino-banked games and sports betting (§ 101(a) (10)):
Poker is unlike casino-banked games or sports betting. Poker operators are not participants in the games and only receive a set fee for hosting them. Much like winnings in pari-mutuel wagering, a type of betting that Congress has permitted, poker players’ winnings come not from the house, but from the pool of other players. In addition, winning at poker involves some measure of skill. Skillful poker players can earn winnings in the long term, while players of house-banked games will always play against odds favoring the house.
This legislative finding justifies the regulatory framework that authorizes online poker, with sufficient consumer protections, in states that opt-in to the regulatory system, while prohibiting other forms of online gaming.
Precisely the same can be said for backgammon:
Backgammon is unlike casino-banked games or sports betting. Backgammon operators are not participants in the games and only receive a set fee for hosting them. Much like winnings in pari-mutuel wagering, a type of betting that Congress has permitted, backgammon players’ winnings come not from the house, but from the pool of other players. In addition, winning at backgammon involves some measure of skill. Skillful backgammon players can earn winnings in the long term, while players of house-banked games will always play against odds favoring the house.
Backgammon, like poker, is a game of skill. While either player can win any one game (or hand) because the dice (or cards) cause some variance, the more skilled player is very likely to win over a session of significant length. Backgammon, like chess, uses an ELO ratings system in which a player’s rating converges to its warranted value. For example if the ratings difference indicate that a superior player should win 70% of the time over an average opponent, then the superior player needs to actually win 70% to maintain her rating. This convergence and inclusion of all played matches allows one to predict a winning percentage for all matchups of players from some common pool even if two particular opponents have never played each other. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elorating_system.
For example on GridGammon, which is one of the most popular backgammon servers facilitating online play for rating points, the ratings of the players recently ranged from a high of 2038 to a low of 978 giving a 99.78% win percentage for the better player in a 25 point match, which typically takes about 3 hours of play time.
The superior player wins live competitions more often as well. Thousands of players compete on the American Backgammon Tour (ABT), which holds approximately 20 tournaments annually across the country, from Las Vegas to New York. Two of our country’s best players – Ray Fogerlund and Neil Kazaross — have won the ABT Player of the Year title eight of the last ten years (2003-2012 YTD).
As with chess, the strongest backgammon players in the world are computer programs, not people. Relying on sophisticated neural networks and substantial processing power, the best computer programs can regularly beat the best humans through superior analytical skill. On FIBS, another popular online backgammon venue, the twenty highest rated active players are computers.
Since the stronger backgammon player will regularly beat the weaker player in a session of significant length, skill predominates over chance in backgammon. In United States v. Dicristinaat 119 (11-CR-4141 ED NY 2012), Judge Weinstein reviewed similar statistical evidence and concluded that since poker “is not predominantly a game of chance, it is not gambling” under the Illegal Gambling Business Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1955. Similarly, in Oregon v. Barr (1982), Judge Walker determined that backgammon did not violate Oregon’s gambling statute because “backgammon is not a game of chance but a game of skill.” http://www.gamecolony.com/backgammon_game_skill.shtml
Your proposed legislation should treat backgammon like poker. Both are games of skill enjoyedby millions of Americans. We are available to work with you and your respective staff to integrate backgammon into your draft legislation and to discuss any of these matters further.
USBGF Executive Director
Alfred M. Mamlet
USBGF Director and Legislative Committee Chair