With the help of the local chapter of the Poker Players Alliance, Wisconsin poker players are fighting back against a state law prohibiting poker. The law was loosely enforced until September of 2011, when the Department of Justice cracked down on the bar poker games that have been commonplace in Wisconsin for many years.
The plight of the players, and of the laws in Wisconsin that make poker illegal was brought to light in an excellent article that appeared recently in the Madison-based newspaper, Isthmus.com.
According to poker player and Wisconsin bar owner Mark Kroon who spoke with the Isthmus Newspaper, “one afternoon a man in a suit came into the bar and, nice as could be, informed the staff that he was from the Green Bay office of the state Department of Justice.” According to Kroon’s account, “the agent later explained to Kroon’s mother, who co-owns the bar, that poker — when played for money — is illegal.”
Following the initial crackdown by the DOJ’s Green Bay office it appears law enforcement has once again turned a blind eye to the bar poker games, as not a single arrest has been reported stemming from a poker game.
Still, the threat of severe prosecution hangs over the heads of a poker player in the state, whether they are gathered in a bar, a basement, or any venue outside of licensed tribal casinos. And it’s this threat they want to eliminate.
The PPA’s Wisconsin director Steve Verrett is spearheaded the fight against the laws outlawing poker, which required the raising of $10,000 to hire attorney Stan Davis, a former to Chief Legal Counsel to Governor Jim Doyle according to the Isthmus.com article.
Davis has since filed a petition asking for a declaratory judgment on poker’s legal standing under current Wisconsin law.
Poker as a game of skill
Wisconsin’s fight is just one of many recent attempts to have poker recognized as a game of skill, or where skill has been used as a defense against a poker arrest. The hope is the designation can separate poker from the typical gambling statutes that make playing the game illegal in roughly half the states in the country.
A recent case that did not have the outcome poker players desired occurred in Idaho, where poker tournaments taking place on tribal lands were prohibited under Idaho’s constitution which prohibits all forms of gambling with the exceptions of bingo, slots, and off-track betting.
In another case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, a New York man, Lawrence Dicristina was busted for hosting raked poker games out of a warehouse. Initially he was acquitted on the grounds that poker was a game of skill, giving poker proponents a major victory.
The PPA, along with high-profile supporters like James McManus (who wrote an amicus brief for the Dicristina case) were heavily involved in Dicristina’s defense and lauded the judge’s ruling. However, the acquittal was later overturned due to the not so small problem that Dicristina was raking the games, essentially nullifying the previous opinion that poker was a game of skill in the process.
In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the book was closed on Lawrence DiCristina’s possible place in poker history had the Supreme Court ruled on the matter.
Despite these two setbacks, the game of skill argument is gaining traction. Earlier this year a court in Amsterdam dismissed charges against poker players based on the “skill” argument; the second such instance in the Netherlands.
Additionally, a court in Pennsylvania came to a similar conclusion in 2008.
The issue is far from settled, but Wisconsin does have some precedent to point to as they try to overturn the law forbidding poker games in Wisconsin at bars like Kroon’s –which incidentally is how Phil Hellmuth got his start in poker.
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