A federal judge has given online poker a boost by ruling that the game of poker is skill based and not a game of chance. This differentiates poker from forms of gambling that are considered to be entirely chance-based. Why is this ruling by U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein so important? It’s because federal gaming statutes have outlawed poker based on the belief that it is not a game of skill.
Just as the Republicans came out against online gambling in their published party platform at this year’s national convention and the Democrats snubbed the issue in their party platform statement, online poker has new hope. The federal ruling helps to confirm what advocates have said for years, that poker is exempt from the federal law banning gambling because it is not a game of pure chance like roulette, slots and craps. This has been the central argument of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), a grassroots group devoted to the legalization of online poker in the U.S.
The judge was ruling on the case United States v. DiCristina. The case involved a buy-in poker game held in a New York warehouse. The house received a 5-percent rake of each pot. The man who ran the game was convicted in the gambling statute but the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn negated that conviction, observing that Texas Holdem is a skill-based game. That ruling saved the defendant from a possible 10-year jail term.
But it may have greater ramifications as Delaware and Nevada are ready to legalize poker and California could be poised to do the same. If those states do legalize Internet poker, it will be interesting to see how the federal government responds and if congress acts to finally legislate the activity.
Whittier Law School Professor I. Nelson Rose, who specializes in gambling law, observed,
The opinion is significant…[it weakens]…the most important remaining federal statute that could be applied to Internet poker, now that the Department of Justice has limited the (1961) Wire Act to sports betting.
Rose’s reference to the (1961) Wire Act and the Department of Justice concerns the department’s ruling this year that in essence online poker did not violate the Wire Act that bans betting ventures that utilize electronic forms of communication in order to facilitate gambling cross state lines.
However, neither the Justice Department’s ruling nor the ruling by the federal judge serves to guarantee the successful implementation of online poker. There is still a long road to go. Even in states where online poker has strong support there are various constituencies that must be dealt with, including Native American tribes who have sovereign rights associated with gambling, state laws which must be interpreted and/or amended and groups opposed to gambling for moral reasons.
Still, it seems as though there are small steps being taken towards the legalization of web-based poker just as the Republican Party has made a big pronouncement against online gambling of all kinds and the Democrats have decided that mum’s the word. The next chapter in this epic journey is most likely just around the corner.