America’s Pastime a Crime? Time to Re-Shuffle Laws!

by Diane Dimond on September 10, 2012

Playing Poker is Illegal?!?

The Great American pastime isn’t just one thing, it is lots of things. There is the game of baseball. There’s eating apple pie. And, there is poker. It’s the card game played by millions of Americans in nearly every community in every state of the union.

The first two activities are perfectly legal, but poker? Well, that depends on where you play the game – at a card table or via the internet – and the state in which you live.

I have such fond memories of playing poker I can’t imagine why some states still have laws labeling it as illegal gambling. When I was a kid growing up in Albuquerque my cash-strapped parents often had friends over for a rousing poker game. They threw modest New Year’s Eve parties where two-bit limit poker games were the centerpiece. After I moved out on my own, playing poker was a fun and inexpensive way to make new friends and interact with colleagues outside work.

Weinstein: Poker Game of Skill Not Chance

Well now, for the very first time, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York has ruled on the legality of poker and come down squarely on the side of card players. Hooray for Judge Jack Weinstein who ruled that poker is a game of skill not a game of chance. Therefore, he proclaimed in a lengthy opinion, it cannot be considered illegal gambling. I hope the word spreads far and wide.

Judge Weinstein wrote. “Expert poker players draw on an array of talents, including facility with numbers, knowledge of human psychology, and power of observation and deception.” And, as if equating continued poker playing to on-the-job training Weinstein pointed out, “Players can use these skills to win, even if chance has not dealt them the better hand. The most skillful professionals earn the same celestial salaries as professional ballplayers.”

Texas Hold 'Em - At the Center of the Controversy

Weinstein’s decision stemmed from the case of Lawrence DiCristina, 33, who hosted regular “Texas Hold ‘Em” poker games in a space in Staten Island, New York. He was convicted of operating an illegal gambling house because he took 5% off the top to cover his expenses. (Rent, staff salaries, etc.) Judge Weinstein overturned DiCristina’s conviction saying that the defendant’s activity was simply not covered by the federal anti-gambling law. He added that the nation’s gambling statutes were aimed at organized crime rings, not a Mom and Pop operation like DiCristina’s.

Think of it like another game of skill – chess – where the winner gets to take home an upfront bet. The chess player doesn’t win because they got lucky. They win because they have the experience and expertise to beat their opponent. It’s all about the skill.

PPA's John Pappas Lobbies on Capitol Hill

Judge Weinstein’s 120 page decision is sure to be quoted in future poker-related legal cases at both the federal and state level, especially now with the boon of internet play which falls into a legal gray area. Internet sites scream about how legal they are but it just isn’t so.

“None of it has been specifically authorized by any level of government,” said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Player’s Alliance which boasts more than a million members and is working for uniform laws. “Just like everything else we do … like books and movies, the poker player is turning to the internet for entertainment in record numbers,” Pappas said.

An attorney involved in the DiCristina case told me depending on the state a citizen’s friendly Friday night poker game could be the target of a police raid. Many of the mish-mash of state laws has never been tested. Two examples: New Mexico and Utah. In Washington State, however, it’s a class 3 felony to wager on line – poker, or any other game. Nevada and Delaware are just the opposite. They’ve passed laws making it legal for residents to play regulated intra-state poker games once the internet operator is licensed and taxed. The state of Missouri also expressly recognizes poker as a game of skill but only licenses it for play on riverboats, although at least one is on dry land and not a boat at all.

Poker is Still Illegal in Some States

For the time being playing poker in South Carolina is okay but the state’s Supreme Court is now reviewing a pro-“Texas Hold ‘Em” decision so that could change.

In Ohio, playing poker is not considered a skill and is lumped in with other “games of chance” like craps and roulette and declared illegal. (Interestingly, bingo is not included as one of the banned games.) See what I mean about a mish-mash of different laws?

California seems to be the prototype for what the Poker Player’s Alliance would like to see. There are huge card clubs there which are licensed, regulated and bring in much needed tax dollars for the state. Operators and customers are happy and the state can rely on a steady stream of income.

, Lawmakers need to get anti-gambling laws out of the 19th century where they were first conceived. A great first step would be to pass The Internet Poker Act for Americans (HR 2366) which is currently pending in the House of Representatives and allows states to opt out if they want. The bill was introduced by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas who says, “To put it simply, this bill is about having the personal freedom to play a skill-based game you enjoy without fear of breaking the law.”

Sounds like an all-around win-win to me.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane September 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm

An ABQ Journal Reader writes:

“Read your recent article about poker, agree with most of it, but a few points need to be clarified. I will make this as brief as possible. I will sign my name, but I ask you for confidentiality.

I have played poker since the late 1960′s. I played casino poker in Colorado and New Mexico for about 15 years from the early 90′s to the mid 00′s. I played very heavily online for about
5 years from 2002-2006. I have been a long term winner in all forms. I say this not to brag, but to explain that I am not writing because of sour grapes, and I have no agenda.

Yes, poker is a skill game. I was innately a good player, but I studied books, practiced and became even stronger.

Live poker and online poker are not the same game. Online poker is not random from the start.

When you shuffle a deck of cards, you get one order of a set of 52 cards. All of the possible combinations of 52 cards is represented by 52 factorial. Or, 52!. This number is: 52x51x50x49…..3x2x1.
The number is: 80658175170943878571660636856403766975289505440883277824000000000000
This number is so large, the smartest minds on the planet are difficult to grasp it.

When a deck is “shuffled” online, a seed number determines which set of 52 cards is to be used. When I played online, most sites used a PRE-SELECTED set of approx. 125,000 hands. Compared to 52! this is not even 1 grain of sand compared to all the sand on all the beaches in the world. Far less in fact. And, 90% of these 125,000 orders of cards are “juiced” so that many people at the table in the same hand get playable cards. This is so the operators make the “rake” instead of a real game where most people will fold their hands, one person wins before the flop, and there’s no rake.

So you see, the lack of randomness, makes the game not a true skill game.

In real poker, if you make the correct play many times, in the long run, you will be ahead. There is no long run in internet poker. You can make the correct play 50 or 100 times in a row, and lose almost every time.

The shuffling is done by a “seed”, and the cards being dealt ( there is no deck ) is an anagram. The operators always claimed why would we cheat, we don’t care who wins, we are just making the rake. Ah, but the subscription service that all of the poker sites subscribe too is the same, the cards are not random, but “action” to provide more rake. There are so many levels of corruption in online poker, ( from the phoney gaming commissions, to the server farms) because once money and greed is involved there is going to be fraud. But that is a whole other letter. This one is just to show that poker and online poker is not the same game.

Poker is a skill game, online poker is not.

Here are some terms for you to Google and do a little research:
Absolute poker scandal
Super user
Howard Lederer
Chris Ferguson

Yes, the Internet Banking Act ( Gaming Act) is wrong and should be taken down. But not because online poker is a game of skill.
The reason the law is wrong is because of censorship, Big Brother, the gov’t denying the people freedom and liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Reply

Diane September 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Facebook Friend Richie Olivieri writes:

“Poker is certainly a game if skill the way I play lol

I read about this ruling recently and was ecstatic. There are alot of states making attempts to expand gambling. There are a few legal casinos in NYC now and NJ is trying to get the government too overturn its sports betting ban.”

Reply

Diane September 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Facebook Friend Nancy Kiley Erickson-Flake writes:

“Our personal freedoms are vanishing Diane. Our states and county’s should provide every citizen a book of what’s against the law in each state. How in hell can one remember all the insane laws out there.”

Reply

Diane September 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Facebook Friend Nancy Kiley Erickson-Flake writes:

“Gee, I hope Ernie’s penny poker party’s are legal. Oy!”

Reply

Diane September 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Nancy – Depends on what state you live in! But, even if poker is illegal in your state its highly unlikely that the cops will come storming in to slap handcuffs on you. Just underscores how silly the laws are and how much they need updating! ~ DD

Reply

Diane Dimond September 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Linked In Radio and TV Professional friend Joi Lewis writes:

“Sigh. Next it will be shooting darts or ping pong! Time to tell the lawmakers to “Go Fish”!”

Reply

CLS September 11, 2012 at 3:51 am

Very interesting article. I had no idea poker was considered illegal, in some states, although I have to say online poker leaves me questioning the high amount of potential for corruption. But to think I used to play cards, in my teens, when my cousins and I got bored during the summer. I still play chess, by the way, and hope it never comes under the same scrutiny as poker.

Reply

Diane Dimond September 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Huffington Post Reader (& Words w/Friends pal) Stephen Buchsbaum:

“Wow, as a recreational Poker Player, should I be scared? How
about Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders ???? I guess I will just
have to stick to “Words with Friends” right Diane :)”

Reply

Diane Dimond September 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Huffington Post Reader ColoradoBMan writes:

” Illegal gambling is one thing I never could wrap my brain around to understand why. The money being betted was the betters to lose so why the label? Come to think of it, exactly what is Illegal Gambling? Money won has to be taxed? Could it be easily argued that the money in pocket is from a pay check that was taxed? I don’t doubt that I’m a little to simple minded and perhaps I dont grasp things like others would but penny poker (regardless how much your “penny” is worth) should not be a crime if everyone there is there on their own free will?”

Reply

Diane Dimond September 19, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Huffington Post Reader Joey Ismail writes:

” If playing cards is illegal then the “law” is a joke and should be disregarded.”

Reply

geegeer.info May 6, 2013 at 10:18 am

They say they offer games that look like gambling but they’re not really gambling, they are games of amusement. If you know of a client who’s worked with them, throw
that in there too. This is due to the reason, that letting you
win will make you come back for more than just cheating you for once and losing the business.

Reply

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