On Friday, it was revealed that a Pennsylvania ruling by Judge Thomas James that poker is a game of skill will be appealed to the state’s Superior Court, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper. Part of the decision to appeal concerned a conflicting ruling by a different Pennsylvania judge who found that “state gambling law is unconstitutionally vague when it comes to poker tournaments.”

Judge James entered his decision on January 14th. In it, he noted, “Using the predominance test, in conjunction with analyzing skill versus chance using the four prong factor test, it is apparent that skill predominates over chance in Texas Hold’em poker.” He continued, mandating, “It is not ‘unlawful gambling’ under the Pennsylvania crimes code.” The case centered on the actions of Walter Watkins and Diane Dent. The former organized a $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em game that operated out of his garage. No rake was taken from the tables. Instead, players were encouraged to tip dealers based on the size of the pot collected.

A Pennsylvania State Trooper infiltrated a game in which Dent was the dealer, setting off the legal action. Both Watkins and Dent were charged with 20 counts of violating Pennsylvania code and a hearing was held on December 15th. News outlets from as far away as Kansas City and San Antonio reported on the case, speculating that it could set into motion a series of pro-poker rulings. In his decision, Judge James cited multiple pieces of industry literature, including Mike Caro’s “Secrets of Winning Poker,” “Explaining Winning Poker: A Data Mining Approach,” and a list of 600 poker books found at HoldemSecrets.com. In an interview with Poker News Daily at the time of the decision, Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Executive Director John Pappas noted, “Clearly, the judge had an understanding of how poker is played.”

Last week, Westmoreland County Judge Richard McCormick found that poker tournaments constitute illegal gambling under Pennsylvania state law. The defendant in the case, Larry Burns, “organized Texas Hold’em tournaments at volunteer fire departments” according to a story that appeared in the Lebanon Daily News. Therefore, despite Judge James’ ruling, two differing opinions on whether poker is acceptable under Pennsylvania law were passed down within three weeks of each other.

Bruce Ledewitz, a Professor at the Duquesne University School of Law, told the Tribune-Review, “It’s a perfectly reasonable disagreement and I’m sure it will be resolved by the Superior Court.” The differences in the case may stem from the profit motive of the defendants. While Dent received tips at players’ discretion based on pot size, the newspaper alleges that Burns “took a percentage of the profits from the poker games for his personal gain.”

Meanwhile, one thousand miles west of Pennsylvania, Kevin Raley was found not guilty of illegal gambling in Colorado. In that case, the PPA recruited Professor Robert Hannum from the University of Denver to testify on Raley’s behalf that poker was a game of skill. In the end, he was successful. Colorado state law officially exempts games of skill from being considered illegal gambling.

Poker players have also recently been successful in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where the existence of 141 internet gambling domain names, including those belonging to PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, were threatened by a seizure order from Governor Steve Beshear. Last month, the Kentucky Court of Appeals found that the Commonwealth did not have jurisdiction to seize the domain names in question on the grounds that they were not “gambling devices” in the traditional spirit of the term.

The Justice and Public Safety Cabinet disagreed with the ruling and has appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court. No official word has been given on whether the case will be heard by the state’s highest decision making body. In the case, the PPA filed an amicus brief outlining why poker should be considered a game of skill and therefore legal under Kentucky state law.

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