Poker advocates were dealt what might be a winning hand regarding their ongoing battle to see Internet poker legalized when a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled this week that the popular card game, according to federal law, did not constitute gambling.
Judge Jack Weinstein, on Tuesday, rejected a jury verdict from July that convicted Lawrence Dicristina of conspiring to operate an illegal poker club. Dicristina had not been accused of participating in any other organized criminal activities, and so the judge focused on whether poker truly qualified as gambling under current federal law.
In his decision, the judge wrote, “Because the poker played on the defendant’s premises is not predominately a game of chance, it is not gambling.”
This is an argument that poker advocates have been making for years.
Weinstein seemed to place great significance on various studies that have been conducted in order to prove whether skill is more of a determining factor than chance in the game of poker – specifically, Texas Hold’em – the type of poker that was played at Dicristina’s club.
Weinstein referred to one study in which approximately three-quarters of all hands that were played never involved any cards being shown. In these hands, the winner was able to induce the other players to fold through skillful betting. And since the study analyzed over 100 million hands of poker, the judge must have concluded that it accurately represented the true nature of the game.
It will be interesting, moving forward, to see what effect this ruling will have on efforts to legalize Internet poker in the United States. One can imagine that advocates will often point to the decision written by Judge Weinstein when making the case that poker is a game of skill.
Last December, the Department of Justice opened the door for state-by-state legalization of online poker when they ruled that the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 does not prohibit online gambling. The DOJ instead stipulated that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting. This was a significant reversal of their previously held position that the Wire Act did in fact apply to all forms of online gambling.
In addition to efforts happening on the state level, there are attempts being made to federally legalize online poker as well. Those arguing in favor of legalization often point to the benefits of regulation while making their case.
Another popular argument is that legalization would lead to an increase in tax revenue. Proponents suggest that additional revenue created from taxing online poker could be applied to important areas of the federal budget like education and healthcare.
But the argument that seems to be most popular amongst poker enthusiasts is simply that poker is not gambling – it is a game of skill – and thus it should not be illegal.
It seems that Judge Jack Weinstein has been convinced.
Now we will have to wait and see how helpful this one ruling by a federal judge in Brooklyn will be to the larger effort to legalize online poker. One thing is clear though – it can’t hurt.