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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Colorado Court Rules Poker is Not Gambling

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One can read too much into a state court ruling, despite the desire to see it as precedent. But when two different state courts rule similarly on one particular subject in the same month, the move toward precedent becomes clearer and more hopeful. A ruling in Colorado vs. Kevin Raley is that second decision in January of 2009 to rule that defendants be found not guilty on gambling charges because poker is not such; rather, it is a game of skill.

The first case came little more than two weeks into the new year in Pennsylvania, where Judge Thomas A. James Jr. ruled that poker was a game of skill and defendants charged with the criminal act of unlawful gambling were not guilty. In the decision, the judge summarized, “This court finds that Texas Hold’em poker is a game where skill predominates over chance.”

Less than two weeks later, a case was decided in a Colorado criminal court where Kevin Raley was one of several people charged with “professional gambling” after being arrested at a bar poker game. The raid took place in Rafferty’s Bar in Greeley, Colorado, when approximately 30 people were playing poker as part of a group that played regularly at that location. Organizers and game dealers were charged with the crime of gambling, though Colorado law provides exemptions for “bona fide contests of skill.” This point was argued by defense attorney Todd Taylor, citing poker as a contest of skill, and assistance was given to the defense by statistics professor at the University of Denver Robert Hannum and Poker Players Alliance Colorado state director Gary Reed.

When all of the evidence had been presented, the jury convened and returned a “not guilty” verdict. The judge agreed with the decision, thereby releasing Kevin Raley and dismissing all gambling-related charges.

PPA representative Reed said, “The PPA is pleased with the outcome of this case. It is further confirmation that poker is indeed a game of skill, not chance. At the same time, the not guilty verdict cements the rights of Colorado citizens to enjoy the American pastime of poker and will allow law enforcement to use its scarce resources to investigate real unlawful activity in the state, not poker games.”

Defendant Raley added, “I am pleased that the jury agreed that my actions in organizing a poker league did not constitute illegal gambling. As a proud member of the PPA, I want to thank them for the support of my case.”

First and foremost, the defendant in the Colorado case was not erroneously prosecuted and convicted of gambling, when he simply organized a group of like-minded individuals to play poker at a local bar. But moreover, the ultimate decision to rule on the basis of poker as a game of skill gives fodder to other defense attorneys defending poker playing clients across the country. Ultimately, these types of precedent may also help members of Congress who are attempting to exempt poker from the overbearing and intrusive Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

For poker players in Colorado, the Colorado v. Kevin Raley decision holds another benefit, as bar leagues may now be free to organize and flourish without fear of police raid or prosecution. A victory in one case may lead to more opportunities and freedoms afforded poker players in Colorado, and with a little luck, on the U.S. federal level as well.

To join the Poker Players Alliance and help in the fight for poker players’ rights, visit www.PokerPlayersAlliance.org.

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