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SC Judge Finds Poker Innocent and Players Guilty of Gambling

Even though he ruled that poker was not a game of chance as proscribed by state statutes, Judge Lawrence Duffy said the legislature had not defined "gaming" and "gambling house", and thus poker players may still be gambling illegally.

A South Carolina judge found today that poker is predominantly a game of skill, but said that lack of clarity in state laws led to his decision that five poker players were guilty of illegal gambling. Even though he ruled that poker was not a game of chance as proscribed by state statutes, Judge Lawrence Duffy said the legislature had not defined "gaming" and "gambling house", and thus poker players may still be gambling illegally.

The absurdity contained in this decision stunned many legal observers. Clearly, citizens cannot be held liable for participation in activity that even the judge finds is undetermined as far as its legal status.

The law in South Carolina forbids card games in a gaming house. The state Attorney General and law enforcement for years have determined that this means games predominantly of chance are barred.

But Duffy concluded that the evidence was overwhelming that poker was a game mostly of skill. Yet, he said he couldn't definitely conclude poker was legal, because of lack of legislative definition.

Gaming law analyst Peter Bowman said, "People can't be convicted because they did something that just possibly was illegal. The prosecutor must prove they were engaged in illegal activity, beyond a reasonable doubt."

Bowman asserted that the conviction was likely to overturned on appeal. "The facts are settled, which mainly is that poker is a skill game. That is no longer in question. Now the appellate court must decide what specific acts are forbidden by statute, and if they find the law doesn't say, they must find for the defendants."

Published on February 19, 2009 by MattMiller

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