The battle for the legislation and regulation of poker has been a fairly hot topic over the recent months and years, and is sure to continue to be for the foreseeable future. For the most part, the debate takes on the issue of online gambling and online poker, but recently there have been some decisions made in court which have stirred up discussion related not to poker as it is played online, but instead the game as it is played casually in brick and mortar locations in South Carolina.
While there are gray areas in most areas of the law, the state of South Carolina’s stance on gaming has always been considered to be fairly clear cut. They don’t allow it. Some two hundred years ago the decision was made to ban all card and dice gaming, and nothing has yet come about to challenge or change this. It’s very clear that South Carolina considers gaming to be illegal, however the issue at hand is, as always, the old chestnut that poker is predominantly a game of skill, and so not in fact “gaming” in the sense of games of chance at all.
In 2006 a game of Texas Hold’Em was organized in a home in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The five men running the evening put the word out over the internet about the home game and a cut of each player’s entry fee was taken out of the prize pool by the host. Somehow the issue came before the local courts and the five individuals in question were found guilty of illegal gambling in a private residence.
The matter was taken to the circuit court, where quite a different view was held. Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis Jr. made a view that the law as it stands is not as clear-cut as it should be, describing it as “vague” and “overbroad”. Dennis took the stance that poker is quite clearly a game of skill, and that it cannot be considered gaming or gambling, as chance is not the chief issue at hand. He overturned the local court’s ruling, setting the clear distinction between gaming, which pertains to games of chance and would be illegal, and poker, which is a game of skill and therefore perfectly legal.
The South Carolina Assistant Attorney General Sonny Jones was unhappy with this decision, and brought the matter before the state’s Supreme Court on Tuesday last week. He argued that the original ruling by the local court was correct, and that while he would not take issue with casual home games, the fact that the evening was advertised through the internet and some of the prize pool was taken by the host effectively turned the private residence into an illegal “house of gaming”.
The five Mount Pleasant home game players in question were supported by the Poker Players Alliance and represented by Billy Wilkins, as the matter was taken to the Supreme Court. Wilkins reiterated that the house where the game was played was nothing more than a standard home, and that the money taken from the prize pool was simply to reimburse the host for the cost of food for the evening. He went on to press the point that poker is a game of skill, and therefore these other details actually bear little relevance, as poker is not gaming, nor covered under the state’s gaming laws.
The legal system is by no means a fast moving beast, and the process is expected to take several months before the justices make and announce their decision, sometime in 2011. While troubling that so much effort has been gone to overturn the Circuit Court ruling, it’s certainly a positive light that there is a level of support both in and outside of the legal system for poker players and their rights. We can only hope that the five Mount Pleasant individuals are not charged with any wrong-doing, setting a powerful precedent of poker being a skill game.