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Judge Deals Winning Hand to Poker Advocates, Absolves Card-Shark by Deeming Poker a ‘Game of Skill’
In a landmark ruling yesterday, a New York federal judge declared that poker is predominantly a game of skill, not chance, and therefore cannot by prosecuted by a law designed to stop organized crime.
The decision by Judge Jack Weinstein could be a major boon for advocates of legalizing online gambling in the United States. In his ruling, Weinstein relied heavily on the testimony of an expert witness who analyzed Internet poker games.
“Chance [as compared to skill] has traditionally been thought to be a defining element of gambling and is included in dictionary, common law and other federal statutory definitions of it,” Weinstein wrote in his 120-page decision. “Expert poker players draw on an array of talents, including facility with numbers, knowledge of human psychology, and powers of observation and deception.”
The judge also cited a recent analysis of 103 million hands of Texas Hold’em — the main game involved in the ruling — which found that 75 percent of poker hands ended with no cards being shown. In other words, one player used mano-a-mano skill to make his opponents fold.
John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, was one of many to spin the news into support for the easing of anti-gambling laws:
“As the judge’s opinion aptly notes, poker is an American pastime that is deeply embedded in the history and fabric of our nation, and his decision sets aside the notion that the vague laws render the game criminal,” Pappas said.
Weinstein’s ruling overturned a jury’s recent conviction of Lawrence DiCristina of Matawan, NJ, who was arrested by federal authorities last year for operating high-stakes poker games in the back room of a warehouse where he sold electric bicycles. They pinned DiCrisitina, 33, for conspiracy to defraud the United States and illegal gambling. Before Weinstein’s ruling, he was looking at up to 10 years in federal prison.
Now he could be a poster-child for the blossoming movement to ease federal restrictions on gambling, online and off.