**UPDATED Dec 16 03:15 P.M. EST**
Is Texas Hold’em a game of skill or chance? Greenville, SC attorney Jeffrey A. Phillips is going to court to argue that it’s a game of skill, in defense of five Mount Pleasant, SC poker players busted over two years ago at a home tournament. If his argument holds up, it could not only get his clients off the hook, but could help legalize private poker games in a state where authorities have held a dim view of poker in the past. Phillips’ argument is key, because whether the poker game was illegal or not could well hinge on whether it is considered a “game of chance” under South Carolina law.
Municipal Court Judge J. Lawrence Duffy Jr. signed a court order last month allowing evidence to be presented as to whether Texas Hold’em – and only Texas Hold’em – should be considered a game of chance under the state’s definition of gaming and gambling. Other popular poker games such as Stud or Omaha are not included in the order. Both the prosecution and the defense can offer testimony, call witnesses and provide other relevant evidence in support of their arguments.
“The significance of this case is that it is the first time that a “trier of fact” will decide based solely on the testimony and witnesses presented whether or not poker is predominantly a game of skill or chance, and in that regard the case is huge,” Phillips told FlopTurnRiver. “While other jurisdictions will not have to rely on this case as binding authority, they will certainly look to the testimony that was provided and the legal analysis that is applied, and I believe it will offer very importance guidance into future court decisions.”
If the court disagrees with Phillips, the players will likely be convicted and fined, subject to appeals. The trial date is set for February 13.
Poker players definitely have a friend in Jeff Phillips. In addition to being a determined lawyer, the 43 year-old father of four has been playing poker since 1996, and considers himself a fairly accomplished player. In 2004 he made the final table at the WSOP $2000 buy-in limit hold ‘em event (an event which Daniel Negreanu won), finishing 8th for a payday of $15,840, and in 2006 played in the $2000 pot-limit event, finishing in the money in 32nd place.
The license plate on Phillips’ Toyota Sequoia reads “HOLD EM.” He used to have Harley Davidson motorcycle as well, with a license plate of “ANTE UP”, but sold it last year.