Landmark ruling calls poker a game of skill

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Aug 21, 2012 Posted in Legal Poker News, US Poker News | No Comments »

On Tuesday a federal judge ruled that poker is mainly a game of skill and not of chance, potentially changing the legal landscape in the United States both in terms of live poker and online poker. The ruling by Federal District Court Judge Jack Weinstein, who ruled in favor of Lawrence Dicristina, a New York man charged with violating the Illegal Gambling Business Act for running poker games out of his warehouse.

Judge Jack Weinstein offered up a 120 page opinion on the matter overwhelming concluding that the outcome of a poker game is decided by skill and not chance, and therefore does not fall under the IGBA. Weinstein wrote in the opinion, “In poker, increased proficiency boosts a player’s chance of winning and affects the outcome of individual hands as well as a series of hands. Expert poker players draw on an array of talents, including facility with numbers, knowledge of human psychology, and powers of observation and deception.”

You can read a full report on today’s ruling by NBC’s Pete Williams here:

The Poker players Alliance (PPA), which has been instrumental in forming Dicristina’s defense was ecstatic over the ruling, and quickly pushed the news of the ruling out to its over one-million members and news outlets, hoping that the ruling is just a step in getting the game legalized and regulated at the federal level, and allowing US players to once again play online poker freely.

In the aftermath of the ruling the PPA issued a Press Release highlighting a number of the key points in the ruling:

The decision of Judge Jack Weinstein of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York is the first federal court decision on whether poker is a game of skill rather than gambling. The court resoundingly ruled it a game of skill. The ruling stated that, “Neither the text of the IGBA nor its legislative history demonstrate that Congress designed the statute to cover all state gambling offenses. Nor does the definition of ‘gambling’ include games, such as poker, which are predominated by skill.”

“…Today’s federal court ruling is a major victory for the game of poker and the millions of Americans who enjoy playing it,” said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA. “Judge Weinstein’s thoughtful decision recognizes what we have consistently argued for years: poker is not a crime, it is a game of skill. As the judge’s opinion aptly notes, poker is an American pastime that is deeply embedded in the history and fabric of our nation and his decision sets aside the notion that the vague laws render the game criminal.”

“Judge Weinstein gave the government an opportunity to prove that poker was a game of predominant chance, but even federal prosecutors could not provide an expert of any kind that could conclude that chance predominates over skill in poker. We could not be more pleased with the outcome of today’s decision,” continued Pappas.

In addition, Judge Weinstein relied substantially on the absence of clear guidance in federal law on the question whether poker is illegal gambling. The decision therefore reinforces that now is the time for Congress to enact a fair and reasonable regulatory model that protects players and generates tax revenues. The PPA continues to work towards that end.

What this means for poker, specifically online poker is currently under debate, with some feeling that this ruling opens the door for Congress to act, while the more pessimistic amongst us feel the ruling does very little to alter the current landscape of online poker legalization in the US.


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