Gambling, Bribery, & Inappropriately Determining a Winner in Magic: The Gathering

Written by David Rockwood Level 2, Georgia, US

Written by David Rockwood Level 2, Georgia, US

I’d like to take a minute to talk about gambling, bribery, and improperly determining a winner at sanctioned Magic Tournaments. This will not include details of any specific events and is, instead, a general overview of the rules and why they are in place. This article is written in hopes that players can avoid these unfortunate situations.

Gambling is not allowed in any form or amount. This covers everything from “loser buys the winner a candy bar” to “I’ll bet $1000 Player A beats Player B”. It doesn’t matter if the result of the bet is money, stuff, service, or just the loser having to wear a funny wig. It also doesn’t matter if you are betting on the match you are in or one you are spectating. It isn’t limited to match outcomes either. “10 dollars says my next card is a land,” is gambling. Gambling cannot take place at a Magic tournament, period. Any gambling, offer to gamble, or anything that looks like gambling will result in disqualification. This sounds severe, and it is. This is the only way Magic is allowed to exist in most areas of the United States, as well as many other countries around the world. If any governing authority determines that Magic is gambling, it either becomes subject to gambling regulation, or becomes completely illegal. (As an example, in Georgia, gambling is a misdemeanor. Operating a store that promotes gambling is a felony.)

Bribery is a term that covers using any type of incentive to affect a match outcome, as well as any statement that could imply an incentive to affect a match outcome. This doesn’t just affect you and your opponent. It affects the entire tournament and everyone in it. This doesn’t need to be explicit, and in most cases, it isn’t. Disguising an offer within a statement like “Well, I’m a very generous person if you’d like to concede.” is still bribery. The intention to actually go through with an offer or not doesn’t matter. The offer alone is enough to affect the match. “I’m hungry. Give me your chips, and you can have game one. HaHa, we can’t actually do that,” is still an offer. There are also laws in some areas that govern skilled gaming with prizes even if it isn’t defined as gambling. Because there is great potential for an entire tournament to be affected and because of legal concerns, all cases of bribery are disqualifications.

Improperly Determining a Winner
Improperly Determining a Winner (IDW) is a term that refers to using or offering to use any method except for playing Magic using the deck that is supposed to be used to decide who wins. The most common example of this is rolling dice or flipping a coin, but it’s not limited to that. Another example is, when time is called, reveal the next few cards of the library to see who would have won if it didn’t go to time. It is not necessary to actually go through with this in order to be committing IDW. Offering the option to use any outside method is IDW. The object of a Magic tournament is to test the skills of the players. Using any other method than playing the appropriate format of Magic doesn’t just affect one match, it changes the breakers and standings of every player in the tournament. This also has the same effect as above. Rolling a die, flipping a coin, arm wrestling for the match, or any other alternative method of determining a winner all put a tournament at risk of legally being considered gambling because there is real-world value on the line. Because of this big potential impact, all offers of IDW are disqualifications.

How Does This Affect Me?
In all of these cases, it is important to know that intent and knowledge of the rules are not relevant. Knowledge and intent can affect whether or not a player is suspended from future play, but a player who is ruled as having performed any of these infractions will ALWAYS be removed from the current event. This is because these particular infractions have the potential to affect an entire tournament or even the legal status of Magic as a whole. It is best when Magic is about fun, but the integrity of the tournament will always come first. It is unfortunate when a new or unwitting player is disqualified when they didn’t know better, but it will happen because these rules are needed in order to protect the game itself.

Jokes can be used to hide real offers, or even accidentally be construed as a real offer, which can still affect the tournament. Because of this, the line for removal from an event must be the statement itself, not how serious the statement is. It doesn’t matter if everyone is in on the joke. All statements that look like an offer to do any of the above things are “real enough” to be disqualifications (DQ). Just don’t do it. There is nothing worth saying that is funny enough to be worth a DQ.

Players whose opponents do anything described here must report it to the tournament staff immediately; (report to the judge if a judge is present and the Tournament Organizer if a judge is not present). If an opponent doesn’t report this offer, they are considered complicit, and they will also be disqualified from the event. This is still true if the opponent refuses the offer. This is because whenever any of these things happen, they NEED to be found so they don’t end up affecting the tournament. This also removes any suspicion that the opposing player has accepted the offer, making them equally guilty of the infractions. If this wasn’t required, a player could make an offer to an opponent; the opponent could say no, concede, and then ask for the money (or other relevant incentives) after the event. Once the offer is known, it has the potential to damage the event whether accepted immediately or not. It doesn’t feel good to be the person who has to report this, especially in the case where you don’t think the opponent meant any harm; however, to protect yourself, the rules require that you always report these statements.

It’s worth saying that there is no reason to dance around the line of one of these infractions. Magic attracts players who want to poke holes in current strategies and develop new ones. That is fine when working within different cards and the rules of the actual game. These infractions are not the place to try to find a loophole. They are intended to be absolute and strict. There is no advantage to be found by seeing how far statements can go before they become Bribery, Gambling, or IDW. If you are concerned that something you want to say could be wrong, call a judge; ask to speak away from the table. You can safely ask questions that way. (You still can’t attempt to bribe the judge. Don’t try to use this as a loophole.) To be clear though, there is no phrasing possible that can allow you to make any of the above types of offers to your opponent. No amount of clever wording, winking, or sign language can allow a match outcome to be connected to an incentive. (For those of you wondering, the rules are slightly different in the last single elimination round, and that will be covered by the head judge of the event if you make it that far.)


Do not make any statement or implication that suggests determining a winner using anything other than playing the game of magic you are supposed to play, that looks like any form of gambling, or that implies any incentives connected to a match outcome. There is no context that will make any of these statements acceptable at any Rules Enforcement Level. There is no level of ignorance or misinformation that will allow the judge to overlook this. It doesn’t matter how serious the statement is or how seriously it was taken. The policy is zero tolerance at every event and at every rules enforcement level. Just don’t do it. If your opponent or any other player does this, do not respond and immediately call a judge.

These rules are in place to safeguard the legality and integrity of Magic tournaments worldwide. If you take the time to ensure you know and understand the rules of the game and do nothing to break, skirt, or dance around them, then there can be more fun and competition with less harsh penalties.

Links to the Magic Tournament Rules (MTR) and Infraction Procedure Guide (IPG) (current versions at the time of writing on 2/6/2018) can be found here. For more info about all of these infractions, see MTR section 5.2 and 5.3 and IPG sections 4.3 and 4.4

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