Nanny State

Poker Wars


A jury in Colorado has acquitted a man who organized poker tournaments at a local bar on charges of illegal gambling, apparently agreeing with his defense that poker is primarily a game of skill, not chance.  Last month, a judge in Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion, exonerating a man of gambling charges for running $1-$2 Texas Hold 'Em games out of his garage.

I'd rather see states do away with gambling prohibitions altogether (or, more accurately, to lift the states' monopoly on gambling), but the outcomes in these cases are exactly right. The fact that professional poker players even exist (as opposed to, say, professional slots or roulette players) is proof that the game is driven more by strategy and skill than by luck.

This month, another state judge in South Carolina will rule on the same question. In that case, Police sent a wired informant with marked bills to break up the $20 buy-in game run by Mount Pleasant resident Bob Chimento and his college buddies. Generally speaking, such games are legal so long as the host doesn't take a cut of the prize money. Police and prosecutors determined that Chimento's collection for pizza and beer qualified as a "rake," making the game illegal.

"The typical police raid of these games … is to literally burst into a home in SWAT gear with guns drawn and treat poker players like a bunch of high-level drug dealers," says Jeff Phillips, a Greenville attorney representing Chimento's group. "Using the taxpayers' resources for such useless Gestapo-like tactics is more of a crime than is playing of the game."

Chimento and his friends aren't alone. The Washington-based Poker Players Alliance says it has received so many calls about poker-related arrests that it's created a national network of attorneys—many of them poker players themselves—to serve as a legal brain trust for its membership. and Drew Carey highlighted one of those cases last year, in which a paramilitary vice squad in Dallas raided a Texas Hold 'Em tournament held at local VFW post.