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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

State Attorney General to Appeal S.C. Poker Skill Game Case

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The case had its rough spots but found favorable rulings as it progressed through the South Carolina court system, but when the Circuit Court ruled that Texas hold’em poker was a game of skill and would withstand any legal tests to that effect, it was too much for State Attorney General Henry McMaster. He filed an appeal during the last week of December, 2009, to request that the Supreme Court of South Carolina hear the case.

It all started in 2006 when a number of poker players hosted a private poker game that was raided by the SWAT team in Mount Pleasant. Five players - Robert Chimento, Jeremy Bristel, Michael Williamson, Scott Richards, and John Willis - were charged with gambling, which violated an 1802 law that made it illegal to play any dice or card games. The case was heard in early 2009, and Judge J. Lawrence Duffy ruled that poker was unarguably a game of skill and should not be subject to said law. However, there was no precedent to that effect, which required him to find the men guilty of violating the law.

The poker players appealed the case, which was heard in September of 2009. It was there that Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis Jr. ruled in favor of the defendants, rendering them innocent of charges. Moreover, he reiterated that poker should be recognized as a game of skill. “Under the dominate factor test,” he wrote in his opinion, “Texas hold’em is not gaming or gambling.” He went on to say that the 1802 law was “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.”

That ruling did not sit well with Attorney General McMaster, who took the opportunity to file an appeal of Judge Dennis’ decision and ask that the South Carolina Supreme Court hear arguments in the case. The Associated Press reported that McMaster said “he doesn’t think whether there is skill or just chance involved has anything to do with lawmakers’ attempt to ban gambling.” His feeling that the issue deals with the state’s constitution and its passage regarding gambling allowed him to file with the highest court in the state.

According to The Post and Courier, McMaster wrote in the 57-page document filed with the Court, “One obvious reason that ‘chance’ need not be determined with respect to a particular game for purpose of the gambling state is that the Legislature sought to ban all ‘gaming’ for stakes at designated locations… In other words, in the General Assembly’s view, the ills resulting from games played for money does not depend upon the particular game or the nature in which it was played.”

It should be noted that McMaster is currently a Republican running for the governorship in South Carolina.

There has been no word from the Supreme Court yet as to whether or not the justices will hear the case.

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