Following recent successes in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, the legality of poker as a game of skill will once again be the center of attention of court proceedings. This time, the focus will be on the state of South Carolina, where one college student’s fate rests on whether poker is a game of skill.
In April of 2006, Bob Chimento and several of his friends had their home game infiltrated by police. According to the Associated Press, “a half-dozen police officers burst into the home, seizing several thousand dollars in cash and a small amount of marijuana.” All but Chimento agreed to pay a $250 fine, as the state’s gambling law charges that “any game with cards or dice” is illegal. The actual game being played is a topic that will be debated when the court hearings commence. The Associated Press notes that while Chimento stated that it was a simple $20 home game, “Police said the gathering was not merely a friendly game, but an encounter that had been advertised online.”
The American Bar Association (ABA) journal also picked up on the story, marking major exposure in the legal world for the South Carolina case as well as the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), who allegedly helped fund a recent court victory in Colorado. There, Kevin Raley was on trial, as operating a poker league could have been considered illegal gambling. As part of the case, the PPA invited Robert Hannum, Professor of Statistics at the University of Denver, to testify that poker is a game of skill and therefore not illegal under state law. The PPA operates a Litigation Network that is open to its paid membership. The Network connects poker players in need of legal counsel with lawyers in their area.
In Pennsylvania, Judge Thomas A. James, Jr. ruled that a $1-$2 Texas Hold’em game operating out of the garage of Walter Watkins did not violate state law. Diane Dent, a dealer, was also named in the case. A Pennsylvania State Trooper participated in the game, which ultimately led to charges being filed. The House did not profit from the Pennsylvania game. Instead, it was suggested that players tip Dent based on the size of the pot won, similar to dealer tokes in brick and mortar casinos. Judge James passed down his ruling on Friday, January 16th, two weeks ago today.
One of the central questions in South Carolina will be to what degree skill must prevail over chance in order for a game to be considered legal. The Associated Press explained, “Attorney General Henry McMaster says his office has adopted a looser interpretation of that statute, one that only considers games more reliant on chance than on a player’s skill to be gambling and therefore illegal — an interpretation the top prosecutor says includes Texas Hold’em.” The PPA and poker players around the world will not have to wait long for the outcome, as the case will kick off in February.
In Kentucky, an ongoing legal battle between its Governor, Steve Beshear, and 141 internet gambling domain names came to a head last week, when the state’s Court of Appeals ruled two to one that the Commonwealth did not have jurisdiction to seize the URLs in question. The very next day, the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which is heading up the legal process, appealed to the state’s Supreme Court. No official word has been given as to whether the highest court in the state will take on the case. Although not a central component of the Kentucky legal proceedings, the question of skill versus chance in poker was addressed by the PPA, which submitted an amicus brief.
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