The fight for five poker players in South Carolina is far from over. According to the Associated Press, the state’s Attorney General will appeal the October ruling that Texas Hold’em, the world’s premier poker genre, is a skill game.
It’s a familiar debate as the poker industry enters 2010. Is Texas Hold’em a game of skill or is it ultimately determined by chance? South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster filed an appeal with the state’s Supreme Court, the Associated Press explained on Thursday: “McMaster’s appeal says he doesn’t think whether there is skill or just chance involved has anything to do with lawmakers’ attempt to ban gambling. The attorney general skipped the Court of Appeals and filed with the state Supreme Court, saying the question deals with the constitution’s wording on gambling.”
Five poker players were charged in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina back in 2006. According to the favorable ruling by Judge Markley Dennis in October, the buy-ins for a weekly home game in the South Carolina town varied between $5 and $20. The small blind was $0.25 and the big blind was $0.50, with pots ranging between $5 and $10. Fifty cents was taken from several pots in order to provide food and drink for players, but the “house” did not profit from the game.
The game got ugly on April 12th, 2006, when police officers raided it and began arresting participants on the grounds that they were playing in a “house used as a place of gambling.” The defendants, under the guidance of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), argued that poker is a game of skill, not chance, and therefore did not constitute illegal gambling. The trial court heard the case in February, which featured World Poker Tour (WPT) host Mike Sexton recap hands played on the roving tournament series to demonstrate poker’s skill component.
Dr. Robert Hannum was also brought in to testify last February. The October ruling explains, “Dr. Hannum also testified that a statistical analysis of professional poker players demonstrated that past performance was a reliable indicator of future success, establishing that the skill of the player was the predominant factor in determining wins and losses.” The lower court ruled that poker was a game of skill. However, because South Carolina’s laws were vague on whether that mattered, the five defendants were found guilty.
An appeal was filed, setting up October’s ruling. Judge Dennis candidly explained, “This Court agrees with Appellants that the South Carolina Supreme Court, if faced with the question, would adopt the dominant factor test for the purpose of defining gambling.” He added, “It should also be noted that the South Carolina Attorney General has consistently applied the dominant factor test when providing opinions about whether certain activities are legal.”
Judge Dennis harped on the overwhelmingly broad nature of South Carolina’s gambling statute, which could be construed to mean that nearly any game played with cards or dice is illegal. Judge Dennis specifically called out Bunco, Go Fish, and Solitaire as possible infractions of state law, saying, “Simply put, [the law], as written, has the potential to make criminals of virtually every man, woman, and child in the state of South Carolina.” Twenty of the original defendants pled guilty to gambling charges, while five fought against the state.
According to the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper, the filing by the Attorney General was 57 pages long and McMaster is a Republican candidate for Governor. The Courier revealed, “No timetable has been set on when the case will be heard, and more rounds of legal filings are expected. The legislature is expected to take up a bill legalizing social card games next year.”