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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Poker a Game of Chance

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The most recent court ruling to come out of a Pennsylvania Superior Court was not favorable to the poker industry. After some success in the state with past decisions, this one overturned a previous ruling that stated that poker is legal because it should be designated as a game of skill rather than categorized as gambling. With that, lawyers are back at the beginning with their efforts to overturn antiquated laws in the state of Pennsylvania.

The original case took place in January of 2009 and involved defendants Diane Dent and Walter Watkins, who were arrested and charged with violating state law regarding illegal gambling. Watkins hosted the home poker game in his garage, and Dent was one of the dealers in the game, and both faced 20 counts of breaking the law. Judge Thomas A. James Jr. heard the case in which the defense attorneys argued that poker was a game of skill, not chance, and therefore not subject to prosecution under that particular law. The judge ruled the defendants not guilty, ruled that poker should be designated as a game of skill, and released Watkins and Dent.

But the Columbia County District Attorney’s office appealed the case, and a ruling was handed down on March 26, 2010, by the three-judge panel with the conclusion that Judge James’ decision was overturned. The 2-1 decision noted that James was wrong to find poker a game of skill.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA), which played a significant role in assisting with the original defense and providing witnesses to testify to the skill-game aspect of poker, was quick to react to the Superior Court decision. Executive Director John Pappas said, “The Poker Players Alliance has reviewed today’s decision by a divided intermediate court of appeals holding that poker is unlawful gambling in Pennsylvania. We are disappointed by the result, which we believe is contrary not only to the better reasoned decisions around the country, but also to the wealth of scientific research that shows poker is a game of skill rather than chance. The case is not over. We think it is likely that the case will promptly be pursued to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will have the final word on that state’s laws. That Court should agree with the excellent opinion of the trial judge in this case, who recognized that poker is a game of skill, not illegal gambling.”

The Associated Press reported that defense attorney Howard Bashman was not aware of his clients’ intentions to take the case to the Supreme Court, as they are considering their options after the most recent and disappointing decision.

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