Fed. Court Rules Poker a Game of Skill

A federal judge has ruled that poker is predominately a game of skill and not a form of gambling and therefore is not illegal under a federal law designed to prevent organized crime from running gambling operations.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that poker is more a game of skill than chance and cannot be prosecuted under a law created to stop organized crime families from making millions of dollars from gambling.

The decision by Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn was embraced by advocates of card games pushing to legalize Internet poker in the United States. The judge relied extensively on the findings of a defense expert who analyzed online poker games.

The ruling tossed out a jury’s July conviction of a man charged with conspiring to operate an illegal underground poker club, a business featuring Texas Hold’em games run in a warehouse where he also sold electric bicycles. There were no allegations in the case that organized crime was involved or that anything such as money laundering or loansharking occurred.

“Because the poker played on the defendant’s premises is not predominately a game of chance, it is not gambling” as defined in the federal law, the judge wrote in a lengthy decision that traced the history of poker and federal laws to combat illegal gambling…

Attorney Tom Goldstein, who made arguments before Weinstein on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance, called the decision a validation for poker players, the tens of millions of people who play the game, and believe they are not gambling, taking a chance, but exercising skill in playing against each other.

He said the decision was the most thorough and detailed poker ruling he had seen by a U.S. court.

John Pappas, executive director of the advocacy group representing more than a million poker enthusiasts, said the “thoughtful decision recognizes what we have consistently argued for years: poker is not a crime, it is a game of skill.”

Awesome news. It doesn’t invalidate state laws, unfortunately, but few laws have states specifically making poker illegal. Most state laws are like that federal law, outlawing “games of chance” with the assumption that poker is included in that category. So this ruling at least provides a precedent for arguing that state anti-gambling laws don’t apply to poker.

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