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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Pennsylvania Court Rules Poker a Game of Chance

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Another state took poker to court, and this time it won in the first round of action. The Pennsylvania case ended in a guilty verdict for 65-year old Larry Burns of Derry County in a decision that rejected the game of skill argument for poker and instead finds Burns facing prison time and a fine for hosting poker tournaments in 2007.

The case began when Burns was arrested for incidents on April 27, May 4, and August 3, 2007, at the Seward fire hall, as well as a May 16 game at Adamsburg Fire Hall. The police were tipped off about the games, presumably through the organizers’ advertisements on signs and the internet, and sent undercover officers to play in the tournaments. Burns was arrested and charged with 12 counts of organizing, soliciting customers for, and permitting gambling, per a 100-year old state law.

Over the course of the three-day trial in the courtroom of Judge Richard E. McCormick, the defense argued that poker was a game of skill, therefore putting it outside the realm of gambling and the associated charges. Dr. Robert Hannum of the University of Denver and Matthew Rousu of Susquehanna University testified for the defense regarding studies and statistics showing poker’s skill aspects. The Poker Players Alliance took part in the case and assisted in arranging for some of the testimony on behalf of Burns.

Burns works as an attorney in Westmoreland County. Since being found guilty, he remains free on bond until the sentencing hearing to be scheduled in the coming months. He faces up to a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, but according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, his attorney believes probation will be in order because Burns has no criminal record.

Others arrested and charged with gambling offenses in the same case - James Miller and James Hricko - will find themselves at an upcoming trial to face a different jury.

Burns told reporters after the trial, “I’m surprised. I thought we presented a good case.” He is expected to appeal the guilty verdict.

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