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Federal judge: Poker a game of skill, not chance

Judge Jack Weinstein dismisses the conviction of a man charged with violating a federal gambling law

Ending an age-old debate, a federal judge ruled last week that poker is primarily a game of skill, not chance, tossing out the conviction of a N.Y. man previously found guilty of violating the Illegal Gambling Business Act.

In July 2011, a jury found that businessman Lawrence DiCristina ran afoul the federal law by running semiweekly poker games out of one of his warehouses, which players paid $300 to join. DiCristina faced a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, but his lawyers appealed the conviction, arguing that poker was a game of skill, and thus not prohibited by the statute.

U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein evidently agreed, vacating DiCristina’s conviction last week. In his 120-page ruling, Weinstein noted that, although New York state courts have long ruled that poker constitutes gambling, federal law on the issue is unclear.  He thus applied the rule of lenity, which favors the defendant when a statute is ambiguous.

Weinstein also relied on expert testimony and research suggesting that skilled poker players consistently defeat unskilled players. “Bluffing, raising and folding require honed skills to maximize the value of the cards dealt by Lady Luck,” he wrote.

The ruling also places other games along the skill-chance spectrum, including chess, which Weinstein calls “a pure game of skill”; bridge, golf and poker, which require more skill than chance; sports betting, blackjack and craps, which depend more on chance than skill; and slot machines, roulette, baccarat and lotteries, games of pure or nearly pure chance.

Read the full story at the Wall Street Journal.

For more InsideCounsel coverage of poker, see:

Owner of online poker site gets 14 months in prison

Full Title Poker CEO finally surrenders to U.S. authorities

Absolute Poker co-founder pleads guilty

Cozen O’Connor responds to Full Tilt Poker lawsuit

Cozen O’Connor sued in relation to alleged Full Tilt Poker Ponzi scheme

Full Tilt Poker fights back against DOJ

Full Tilt Poker caught bluffing players of $440 million

Contributing Author

Alanna Byrne

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