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PPA uses legal muscle to defend poker
A scant year since its inception, the Litigation Support Network has racked up quantifiable successes in legal cases involving Americans' right to play poker.
On March 24, 2008, the Poker Players Alliance launched the Network as a free service to its members.
It provides basic preliminary legal advice on poker-related matters, as well as referrals to local attorneys who can offer members representation.
At the time, the PPA said that the Litigation Support Network could help members "should they have questions as they organize a charity poker tournament, start a poker league or, in the worst case scenario, get arrested."
The PPA also envisioned tackling the larger issue of excluding poker from antigambling laws, stating, "Additionally, the network of attorneys will be tapped to help prepare PPA in the event the organization needs to litigate that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance."
Since then, the LSN has more than fulfilled its promise, lending its resources and support in cases where the right to play poker has been under attack.
In courtrooms from Colorado to South Carolina, Kentucky to Pennsylvania, the Litigation Support Network has worked with local attorneys to achieve a number of victories in its effort to protect the rights of poker players.
By providing expert witnesses, preparing arguments for trial and filing amicus briefs with the courts, the LSN has helped convince judges that poker is primarily a game of skill and not a game of chance.
The Network was the brainchild of New Hampshire attorney Patrick Fleming, who spoke with PokerListings after the recent ruling in South Carolina.
Fleming explained that he had been following a test case in North Carolina where a PPA member, Howard Fierman, was seeking to obtain a permit for a poker club. He was denied the permit on the grounds that poker was illegal gambling.
He filed suit and the judge agreed with the denial, stating that poker was a game of chance because "it's the cards that decide who wins and loses in poker."
"That really got my blood boiling," Fleming said, "both as a lawyer and as a poker player, when I read that case. I said, anybody who plays poker knows there's a lot more going on in poker than the cards you are dealt, and this needs to be developed and proven so it can be presented in a court of law ... that's where I got the idea for the Litigation Support Network."
Fleming took the concept to PPA board member Rich Muny, who put him in contact with PPA Executive Director John Pappas. They envisioned an organization that could furnish names of lawyers familiar with poker to PPA members who were arrested for playing poker or who wanted to challenge laws against poker.
Those lawyers, in turn, would draw on a "central clearinghouse of information" which the PPA would provide.
The South Carolina case provided a good example of how the PPA works with lawyers representing its members in court.
To support the defendants' lawyer in his arguments, the PPA paid for two experts to testify that poker was a game of skill - University of Denver statistics professor Robert Hannum and poker pro and commentator Mike Sexton.
"Professor Robert Hannum, who has been our expert twice now, comes into court armed with all these studies and can discuss them all in front of the judge and explain to the judge what they mean," said Fleming.
Professor Hannum was a compelling witness, according to Fleming, as was Mike Sexton, who showed video of poker hands to demonstrate to the court the skill involved in playing poker.
Jeff Phillips, the attorney who represented the defendants in the South Carolina case, spoke highly of the help provided by the Litigation Support Network.
Phillips told PokerListings, "The PPA paid for Hannum and Sexton to come testify and they performed admirably and their testimony is what really prompted the judge's finding ... that there was overwhelming testimony that poker was a game of skill. I think it was very effective evidence."
In addition to furnishing experts to testify, the PPA provided Phillips with additional legal assistance. He told PokerListings that he worked with Tom Goldstein, a PPA attorney in Washington , D.C., whom he described as very accomplished and bright and "a great source of advice and help."
The South Carolina case is heading for an appellate court to challenge the magistrate's ultimate finding of guilt. Phillips is cautiously optimistic about their chances on appeal, which the PPA will continue to participate in. He expects a ruling on the appeal by late spring.
Thanks to the work of the local attorneys, aided by the PPA's Litigation Support Network, poker is moving ever closer to legal recognition as a game of skill whose players should not be punished under laws that seek to prohibit playing games of chance.
As Mr. Fleming said of the recent successes by the Litigation Support Network, "So far, so good."