South Carolina Judge Deems Poker a Game of Skill
posted in Poker Law, Poker News on 26 February 2009 by

The latest victory in a string of positive court rulings for poker recently came to pass in South Carolina. Mount Pleasant Municipal Judge Larry Duffy accepted that poker was a game of skill, stating that the evidence was ‘overwhelming’. However, despite concluding that poker was not purely a game of chance he still came down with a verdict of guilty against the five defendants.

The case stems from a home game raided by police in 2006. Of the 20 players arrested and tried as a result, 15 agreed to pay fines and take the issue no further. However, Bob Chimento, Jeremy Brestel, Scott Richards, Michael Williamson, and John T. Willis all decided to combat what they felt was a miscarriage of justice, and took the case to court.

The crux of the defense’s argument was that poker was a game of skill and so was not outlawed by South Carolina’s archaic anti-gaming laws. Experienced pro Mike Sexton was brought in as an expert witness, as was University of Denver Professor of Statistics Dr. Robert Hannum, and with all this working in their favor the judge felt compelled to agree that poker was undoubtedly a game of skill. However, he felt that this did not have any definitive bearing on state laws, and so ordered the five men to pay the fines that they were originally charged with.

The laws in question date from 1802 and are horrendously outdated. Read literally, they outlaw any games played with cards or dice. Although Judge Duffy did not feel that he had the authority or impetus from higher powers to change the law, State Attorney General Henry McMaster has stated that the interpretation of the anachronistic law currently in place is to restrict it only to card or dice games with a high rate of chance. He confirmed however, that such a small case at such a low court could not provide grounds for removing poker from that group. The case looks to be heading to appeal and McMaster hinted that, were the case to make it all the way to the State Supreme Court that a definitive decision as to the legality of poker in South Carolina may well have to be reached.

Representatives of the poker community were cautiously optimistic about this latest ruling. The Executive Director of the Poker Player’s Alliance, John Pappas, stated that the group were “humbled by Judge Duffy’s thoughtful decision and applaud the effort put forth by the legal team defending these poker players.” He added that, “It’s becoming quite clear the legal community agrees that this great American pastime is a game of predominant skill, not luck, and should not be considered gambling under the law.”

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