In what could go down as a landmark decision in the United States’ chequered history with online poker, today Federal Judge Jack Weinstein ruled that the game of poker is “predominated by skill.”
Weinstein stated that the government failed to demonstrate that poker is a game prevailed by chance and that the “fundamental question is not whether some chance or skill is involved in poker, but what element predominates.”
The ruling today represents the first time a Federal court has recognized poker as skill and not gambling.
“No other defendant had previously raised this argument,” said Patrick Fleming, Board member and Litigation Support Director of the Poker Player Alliance (PPA), told pokerfuse. The skill vs. luck debate has been an argument that the PPA has pursued for years in an attempt to decriminalize the game in the US.
“Today’s federal court ruling is a major victory for the game of poker and the millions of Americans who enjoy playing it,” said the Executive Director of the PPA John Pappas, in a press release issued minutes after the decision was handed down.
This case is not only a victory for poker advocates but also for the PPA, who helped orchestrate the defense of both Dicristina and the game of poker. In addition to presenting the oral arguments in the case, PPA attorneys “provided the arguments and briefs and extensive expert testimony,” according to today’s PPA press release.
Lawrence Dicristina was arrested in 2011 for operating an illegal gambling business in New York. The defense motioned to dismiss the charges, claiming that because poker was a predominantly a game of skill, it was not illegal under the Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA). However, Judge Weinstein ruled that the determination of poker being predominated by skill or chance was a matter for the court to decide and not the jury.
After being instructed to proceed under the assumption that “running a poker establishment was illegal,” the trial took place as planned and Dicristina was subsequently convicted of violating the IGBA.
However, there was a post-trial hearing to determine whether poker was considered gambling. At the hearing an expert witness for the defense attempted to show that poker was indeed predominated by skill. The prosecution also had an expert witness of its own, but instead of trying to show that poker was a game of chance, the government opted to attempt to discredit the testimony of the defense: a move that did not work in its favor.
After evaluating the expert testimony, Judge Weinstein dismissed the indictment and set aside the jury’s guilty verdict.
However, according to Fleming, the decision is likely to face appeal, which could result in a reversal of Judge Weinstein’s decision.
“It would be unusual for [the government] not to appeal the reversal of a criminal conviction,” Fleming told pokerfuse. “Given the use of IGBA to prosecute poker sites and operators has gone on for some time, I think the government will appeal.”
Fleming also hinted at the possibility that the government might wait for another case before they appeal the issue citing that this “ruling is only binding in the [Eastern District of New York].”