Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Partial Victory in S.C. Poker Case

There is a very important case going on in South Carolina over the illegality of poker in that state and whether poker is a game of skill and thus exempt from the laws against gambling. On Friday, the defendants won a partial victory, with the court finding the defendants guilty but agreeing that poker is a game of skill and leaving it up to a higher court how to apply the law in light of that fact.

The trial court recognized that this is an “easy case” for acquittal if the proper test under South Carolina law is whether a game is predominantly one of skill. But it concluded that a higher court must decide that issue. PPA will work with the defendants to promptly appeal the case, and they expect to prevail through that appeal. The Justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court who have addressed the issue have concluded that – consistent with the rulings of other states – the “predominance” test is correct. In addition, the South Carolina Attorney General has expressly embraced the predominance test.

The issue here is whether poker is predominately a game of skill or a game of chance. In the case, Mike Sexton, the lead commentator for World Poker Tour broadcasts and a highly successful poker player in his own right, testified as an expert witness. He came armed with video of nearly a dozen different situations in poker where a more skilled player would make a better decision and therefore win more in the long run than weaker players.

Now it’s up to the higher court to reaffirm the predominance standard and apply it, thus overturning the conviction for playing cards in a “house used for gaming.” The Poker Players Alliance, on behalf of the defendants, argued that in order to qualify as gambling (or gaming), the game must be predominately one of luck.