S.C. Judge Sees Poker as Skill, Will Rule Next Week

The five defendants in the South Carolina gambling case can look forward to a ruling next week, but in the meantime, they have the satisfaction of knowing that the judge recognized poker as a game of skill. Testimony was heard in the Mount Pleasant courtroom on Friday, February 13, and the effort put into presenting the skill vs. luck argument with regard to the gambling law may have worked to their advantage.

Though it started in April of 2006 with a raid on a home poker game, it had taken years for the five defendants – Bob Chimento, Scott Richards, Michael Williamson, Jeremy Brestel, and John Taylor Willis – to bring their case to court. Instead of pleading guilty and paying a fine, as did numerous other players arrested at the same poker game, the pack of five decided to fight the charges that they broke the law by hosting and playing in a game of chance. Their day in court finally came on Friday.

The trial saw Defense Attorney Jeff Phillips presenting evidence and testimony to support the notion that poker is a game of skill and therefore cannot be considered gambling under state law. He argued that the poker games in question were played for pleasure, not profit, though the organizer often accepted some money in exchange for food and drinks. “They simply love the game of poker,” Phillips said in court, according to The State newspaper of South Carolina. “Millions of people like poker. There are poker games in every city in the nation. Why shouldn’t people who love the game of poker have a chance to get together?”

Phillips called experts to testify, including Mike Sexton, who told the court that skills like math calculations, timing, and knowledge of opponents and their actions are inherent parts of a poker game, which explains why some players win more than others. During cross examination, however, Sexton was confronted and had to admit under oath that he received $5,000 from the Poker Players Alliance to appear in court on behalf of the defendants. But he noted for the record, “I’m doing it more for the love of the game than the fee.”

Prosecutor Ira Grossman argued the irrelevance of that skill game line of reasoning, saying that the defendants were arrested at a house used for a gambling operation where games were held regularly and advertised on the internet; therefore, they broke the law. “I don’t know how your honor can find that this was not a house of gambling,” he said.

But when both sides rested their cases, it was Municipal Court Judge Larry Duffy’s turn to make a statement. “I have determined in my mind,” he said, “that Texas Hold’em is a game of skill.”

How this will apply to the final decision regarding the state law remains to be seen. The formal ruling is expected next week.

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