N.C. court rules poker game of chance

The North Carolina Court of Appeals filed its ruling today in regards to whether to uphold a district court judge's ruling that poker is a game of chance and therefore illegal under state law. The appeals court upheld the ruling, preventing the opening of a poker club in the state.

The plaintiff in the case was the Joker Club, a poker club that had been planned to open in Durham County in 2004. Before opening, the owner, Howard Fierman inquired with the district attorney if the establishment would be legal.

DA James Hardin replied that the proposed poker club would be illegal under North Carolina law.

Without the district attorney's approval, the Joker Club's lease was going to be canceled and the club would lose its security deposit.

Fierman chose to then file action against the district attorney seeking a declaration that poker is a game of skill, and therefore legal. In May 2005, however, the Durham County Superior Court ruled that poker is a game of chance.

The appeals court looked at the testimony of witnesses from the original case arguing both sides of the skill versus chance argument in order to determine their own ruling.

A professional poker player from Las Vegas, a tournament coordinator, a casino manager, and an amateur player all testified for the Joker Club that skill plays a large part in becoming a winning player.

The defense's one witness was a N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement officer who testified that in his 39 years of poker play, luck seems to ultimately prevail in the game. His example was a televised poker tournament where a hand with a 91% chance of winning lost to a hand with only 9% chance to win.

The appeals court acknowledged in its ruling that skill does play a part in the game of poker, but luck of the draw makes poker a game of chance.

"Although skill such as knowledge of human psychology, bluffing and the ability to calculate and analyze odds make it more likely for skilled players to defeat novices, novices may yet prevail with a simple run of luck," the ruling states.

"No amount of skill can change a deuce into an ace. Thus the instrumentality for victory is not entirely in the player's hand."

In Fierman's opinion, because the judge couldn't decide whether skill or chance was "predominant" in the game, he determined that poker is a game of chance.

"I believe that the decision from the Court of Appeals was very well written, but it only illustrates the lack of intimate knowledge of poker that would be required in order to reach the proper decision that poker is indeed a game of 'skill,'" Fierman said.

As evidence of his point, Fierman points to the substantive books and articles of instruction about poker which emphasize that winning at poker is not an event, but a process. Luck may prevail during one hand, but skill wins out in the long run.

"Everyone except the 'Poker Brat' has learned that when we make prudent and proper decisions, we receive long-term rewards in the form of positive expectations," Fierman said.

"We expect someone to lose to the two-outer on the river. We embrace that occasional loss as part of the overall 'positive expectation.'"

It is that core concept of the game that Fierman feels the attorney general, the original trial judge and the Court of Appeals have failed to comprehend when deciding that chance plays the superior role in the game.

The ruling is just another hurdle Fierman plans to get over in his quest to legalize poker in North Carolina.

He said he's spent more than 10 years fighting this battle, but he's still in the war and will know more about how he will continue to fight once he meets with his legal team.

More than his work alone is needed for the fight to legalize poker. "I believe that we as poker players need to organize our thoughts and speak loudly and positively in ever forum that becomes available to us," Fierman said.

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