“The Court finds that Texas Hold’em poker is a game where skill predominates over chance. Thus, it is not ‘unlawful gambling’ under the Pennsylvania Code.” That was the order of Columbia County, Pennsylvania Judge Thomas James.
The case included two defendants, Walter Watkins and Diane Dent, who were involved in running a $1/$2 no-limit Hold’em game at Watkins’ house. The only game played was Texas Hold’em and no rake was charged. However, the players were encouraged to tip dealers from pots won.
Undercover Pennsylvania State Troopers attended the game multiple times while building a case against the defendants. Most of those who were charged plead out in order to put the event behind them. However, Watkins and Dent, who are boyfriend and girlfriend, fought the charges on the grounds that Texas Hold’em is a game of skill, not chance, and therefore not considered “gambling” under Pennsylvania law. PA law specifically defines gambling as games that rely predominately on chance.
Peter Campana, council for the defendants, cited many well-known poker books and websites, including Mike Caro’s “Secrets of Winning Poker.” Campana has been a poker player all his life and had no doubt that poker was not a game of chance, but of skill. He said, “I’ve seen poker players of all calibers; there’s no question in my mind that skill controls poker more than luck of the draw.”
Apparently, Judge James agreed, dismissing the charges. He cited multiple mathematical studies in issuing his ruling, including one that demonstrated that all players receive an equal number of premium starting hands and poor starting hands. The difference is what is done with these hands. “Beginning poker players rely on big hands and lucky draws. Expert poker players use their skills to minimize their losses on their bad hands and maximize their profits on their big hands.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, Watkins said, “It’s unfortunate we had to go through all this. We were arrested, taken out of our home. Shackled and spent a night in prison. All for playing poker.”
The ruling only has legal precedent within the two counties in the judge’s jurisdiction, Columbia and Montour counties. However, John Pappas, executive director for the Poker Players Alliance, states, “It is a significant victory in the overall battle to demonstrate that poker is not pure chance gambling. The PPA hopes to leverage this win in other trials in other states where we have an opportunity to argue the skill of poker.”
This ruling, combined with the recent announcement that the Kentucky Court of Appeals has overturned the previous ruling in the domain seizure case, gives the Internet poker industry some much needed momentum and hope heading into the New Year.