In April 2006, police raided a house in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina where a group of friends were playing a home game. The players were arrested and charged with running an illegal gambling operation. The majority accepted the charges and paid a small misdemeanor fine, but five men stood up against what they saw as a miscarriage of justice. Their original trial found in favor of the state, but the impending appeal hearing looks set to side with the defendants.
The case was originally heard by Municipal Court Judge Larry Duffy. Lawyers for the defense attempted to use an argument that has ben successful in other cases around the U.S – that poker is a game of skill and not a game of chance. They even brought in poker luminary Mike Sexton to help sway the judge. The ploy worked, the judge agreed with the defendants that poker was a game of skill, but ruled that they had still contravened state gaming law. The law in question dates back to 1802 and taken literally outlaws “any games with cards or dice.”
The five convicted poker players elected to appeal the decision and are set to receive a ruling in the coming days. They are expected to win, thanks to a letter from the presiding Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis Jr. In the note he states his agreement with the claim that Texas Hold ‘em poker is a game of skill. He believes that the court will accept the evidence of the ‘dominate factor test’ and that, “under the dominate factor test, Texas Hold ’em is not gaming or gambling.” He also attacked the outmoded SC law that was used to prosecute the defendants, calling it “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.” In his opinion the decision made by the lower court “must be reversed.”
Any decision in favor of the poker players may help the passage of a bill introduced early this year by Sen. Glenn McConnell. His proposition would allow legal games of “social gambling” to operate in the home. Small groups of people would be able to pay poker and other games so long as there was no house odds or house profit made from the game.
This landmark decision is yet to be officially confirmed, but all signs point towards a win for poker. This high profile case is far from over as a second appeal is expected to take the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court.