In late 2006, a group of gentlemen from Mount Pleasant in South Carolina were playing one of their regular low-stakes home games. Without warning, a group of local police officers burst in to arrest them. The players were charged for engaging in illegal gambling under South Carolina’s archaic gaming laws, which literally outlaw “any games with cards or dice.” The majority of the group decided to cut their losses and pay the fines, but a few brave souls continued to protest what they considered to be injustice. After a protracted series of court battles, they were finally cleared of any misdoing in October 2009.
Their struggles may not be over however. The South Carolina Attorney General has submitted an appeal to the state Supreme Court. That quiet group playing $0.10/$0.20 over 3 years ago could never have imagined that it would lead to a direct confrontation with their state’s most senior legislator.
The few players who did not plead guilty have always argued from a platform of skill vs. gambling. The ever present Poker Player’s Alliance were quick to step in and advise the plaintiffs to demonstrate that poker was skill not gambling, and so not covered by SC law. Key testimony came from Dr. Robert Hannum of the University of Denver. He used statistical analysis to show that the winner in a session of poker was primarily determined by skill and not by luck. The judge was convinced, but took a strict reading of the vague gaming statute and decreed that the home-game players had still contravened the law.
The remaining rebels agreed to fight on and took their case before Judge Markely Dennis. With the help of expert witnesses like Poker Ambassador Mike Sexton, they convinced Judge Dennis that poker’s skill factor absolved them from falling under the South Carolina gaming laws. The Judge was also gravely concerned with the inappropriateness of the archaic “cards or dice” law. “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,” he said.
Attorney General Henry McMaster does not agree, and has submitted a 57-page file to the South Carolina Supreme Court to prove it. It is his belief that, regardless of whether or not poker is skill, it should still be outlawed in South Carolina. “In the General Assembly’s view, the ills resulting from games played for money does not depend upon the particular game or the nature in which it was played.” It also seems likely that the Supreme Court will take a closer look at the current broad gambling law as part of the process.
No date has been set for the hearing, but it is sure to affect thousands of SC residents. One South Carolina poker player has gained particular prominence over the last few months, thanks to his run on FOX’s PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge. Rev. Andrew Trapp, a poker playing priest from from Garden City, won $100,000 on the show and came close to competing for the full $1,000,000. His appearance became a local and global sensation and brought unforeseen publicity to the church fund to which he donated all of his winnings. Rev. Trapp was happy to state that he regularly played in poker games; sessions that would presumably be declared illegal if McMaster and the General Assembly get their way.