S. Carolina judge rules poker game of skill

Justice scales

There's good news and bad news for the defendants in South Carolina who fought charges of operating a gambling house.

Mount Pleasant Judge Lawrence Duffy Jr. said in his decision today that there is overwhelming evidence that poker is a game of skill, not chance.

However, he still found the five men charged guilty of operating a gambling house.

The Greenville Five, who were some of the 20 players charged when the poker game was raided at a house in Greenville, will now have to pay fines.

"While I am disappointed that the judge found my clients guilty by holding them to a standard that is not defined by the law, there are many positive elements that we can take from this opinion as we prepare for the appeal," said Jeff Phillips, the lead attorney for the five defendants in South Carolina.

"Our solid legal arguments were superbly supported by the expert testimony arranged by the PPA. The testimony of Mike Sexton and Professor Robert Hannum [was] invaluable and helped explain the skillful essence of poker to the court. We are grateful for their involvement in this case."

The Poker Players Alliance, a grassroots advocacy group organized to protect the right to play poker, helped arrange the expert testimony from Sexton and Hannum to support the case that poker is a game of skill.

The game of poker is predominantly about making correct decisions rather than just benefiting from mere chance, which means it shouldn't be considered illegal gambling.

Judge Duffy found that testimony persuasive, concluding that poker is a game of skill. The court recognized that this would be an easy case for acquittal if the proper test under South Carolina law is whether a game is predominantly one of skill.

However, the court decided that a higher court must rule on that issue.

The PPA was disappointed that the court's initial conclusion is that the defendants had committed a crime, but the organization expects to prevail under further review.

"We are humbled by Judge Duffy's thoughtful decision and applaud the effort put forth by the legal team defending these poker players. The positive language in this ruling comes on heels of other key legal victories for the rights of poker players in Kentucky, Colorado, and Pennsylvania," said John Pappas, PPA executive director.

"It's becoming quite clear the legal community agrees that this great American pastime is a game of predominant skill, not luck, and should not be considered gambling under the law."

Under South Carolina law, the term "gaming" means "gambling."  The PPA argued that the court should adopt the rulings of other courts that gambling refers to a game in which the outcome is determined predominantly by chance, not by skill.

According to the PPA, the Justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court who have addressed the issue have concluded that the "predominance" test is correct, and the South Carolina Attorney General has also embraced the predominance test.

"The court's finding is a tentative victory for poker players and all concerned with the rights of individuals to play this game with their friends in their own home," said John Ridgeway, the South Carolina state director of the PPA.

"Poker is a game of skill that is enjoyed by thousands of South Carolinians, and we applaud the judge for recognizing that important distinction. We expect a higher court to agree that under the proper standard, it is not illegal to play a game of skill."

The PPA said it plans to work with the defendants to appeal the case.

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