Had the Swiss Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Texas hold 'em was a game of skill, it would have permitted private competitions to continue. But it said simple math, tactics and psychology played smaller roles than luck in determining the winner.
The decision will anger fans of the popular card game, which has enjoyed a flourishing of events in Swiss restaurants, bars and hotels. Tournaments also have a growing following on TV and the Internet.
"The horror," railed the website SwissPokerTour.ch, which brings together players and organizers around the country. "Today is a black day for all amateur poker players in Switzerland."
The game, played in the World Series of Poker in the U.S. each year, starts with each player on the table receiving two cards face down. After a round of optional betting, three cards are "flopped" face up and more money can be waged. Then, two more community cards are drawn and bets can be placed after each.
The Supreme Court ruling came after Swiss casinos appealed a lower court decision that Texas hold 'em was a game of skill and could therefore be played anywhere. It said smaller poker matches could continue among friends, even if money is involved.
The Texas hold 'em debate has also divided opinion in other countries. A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled 2-1 in March that it was illegal because it met the definition of gambling because the outcome is more dependent upon chance than skill. Many aficionados and self-styled "professionals" disagree, however.
In Switzerland, games of luck such as roulette and slot machines are restricted to licensed casinos, which pay a hefty 50 percent tax on profits. Private organizers of poker games weren't paying those taxes, argued Marc Friedrich, head of the Swiss Federation of Casinos.
"A parallel sector started to develop that did not have the same regulations and rules as casinos," he told The Associated Press, estimating about 100 unlicensed poker championships were taking place each weekend.
Casinos must identify participants, prevent money laundering and fight gambling addiction, but private Texas hold 'em events were avoiding these requirements, according to Friedrich.
He said the differences amounted to unfair competition, and said a number of players already banned for casinos for racking up excessive debts were continuing to play freely in outside events.
The Swiss court's decision cannot be appealed.