A federal judge in New York has ruled what poker players have already known for generations, that poker is predominantly a game of skill that trumps the element of chance.
In his 120-page decision, Senior United States District Judge Jack Weinstein found that poker is not gambling as defined by the Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA) because the statute as is written does not “include games, such as poker, which are predominated by skill.”
The ruling was rendered in U.S. vs. Lawrence DiCristina, in which the defendant was arrested for operating an illegal gambling business and convicted by a jury of his peers. However, in a post-trial hearing held to determine if poker can be construed as gambling under the IGBA, expert testimony offered by both parties swayed the judge to rule in favor of the defendant. Weinstein set aside the jury’s guilty verdict and found that DiCristina did not violate the law under current IGBA guidelines.
The legal strategy employed by the government was interesting to many courtroom observers because while the defense put forth the argument of poker as skill, the prosecution chose to discredit the expert testimony offered by the defense, as opposed to focusing on the argument of poker as a game of chance. That courtroom strategy failed miserably, though the government will most likely appeal the decision as they are wont to do in reversals of criminal convictions.
The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) played a huge role in the case. PPA attorneys wrote the legal briefs, presented oral arguments, and were responsible for the expert witness testimony, while working alongside the lawyer for DiCristina. Following the judge’s finding that “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,” the PPA released a statement in praise of Weinstein for his sensible decision.
“We worked for years defending players against vague gambling laws,” PPA executive director John Pappas said in the statement. “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.”
All eyes are now on U.S. prosecutors to see if they will appeal the decision of Judge Weinstein. In the meantime, the poker community can celebrate the fact that a federal judge had the sense to rule that pro players “draw on an array of talents” that “permit the best poker players to prevail over the less-than-skilled players over a series of hands.”