Federal Judge Rules Poker Requires Skill Over Chance

Federal Judge Rules Poker Requires Skill Over ChanceIn a landmark ruling, a judge has found that poker is predominantly a game of skill and is not illegal gambling as spelled out in federal statutes.

Senior United States District Judge Jack Weinstein made his ruling in the case of U.S. vs. Lawrence DiCristina. The defendant was charged with running an illegal gambling business in New York. DiCristina was initially convicted of violating the Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA), but a post-trial hearing was held to establish whether poker can be considered gambling as defined by the IGBA. Expert witnesses presented testimony for both sides, with the defense arguing that poker is predominantly a game of skill. The expert for the prosecution testified mainly to discredit the defense witness, as opposed to illucidating the chance argument. That strategic courtroom maneuver backfired like a bluff gone bad as Weinstein found in favor of DiCristina, setting aside the guily verdict rendered by the jury and perhaps changing the way poker is perceived by many who don’t fully understand the game.

Because the poker played on the defendant’s premises is not predominantly a game of chance, it is not gambling as defined by the IGBA, Weinstein wrote in a 120-page ruling. The judge went on to say that the IGBA statute that defines gambling does not include games, such as poker, which are predominated by skill.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) was integral in the case in writing the briefs, presenting the oral arguments, and providing expert testimony in conjunction with the criminal attorney representing DiCristina. The PPA issued a press release following Weinstein’s decision, praising the judge for his sensible ruling that coincides with what poker players have known for decades–that successful poker play requires much more skill over the element of chance.

We worked for years defending players against vague gambling laws, PPA executive director John Pappas said in the release. Today’s federal court ruling is a major victory for the game of poker and the millions of Americans who enjoy playing it. Judge Weinstein’s thoughtful decision recognizes what we have consistently argued for years–poker is not a crime, it is a game of skill.

As a matter of course, the government tends to appeal reversals of convictions in criminal cases. So this is likely not the end of the argument. But it is definitely a step in the right direction for the game of poker.