Judge Weinstein’s Ruling on Poker as ‘Game of Skill’ Could Spark Resurgence Online

Written by:
Gilbert Horowitz
Published on:
Aug/28/2012
Judge Weinstein’s Ruling on Poker as ‘Game of Skill’ Could Spark Resurgence Onli

Last week’s ruling by New York Supreme Court Judge Jack Weinstein that poker is a “game of skill” and not “one of chance” has many believing an online poker resurgence is on its way. So-called “games of chance” were previously prosecuted under a law used to eradicate organized crime. 

In making his decision, Judge Weinstein relied extensively on the findings of a defense expert who analyzed online poker games.

The ruling tossed out a jury's July conviction of a man from New Jersey, Lawrence Dicristina, who was charged with conspiring to operate an illegal underground poker club from within a Staten Island warehouse.  There was no evidence to suggest that organized crime had any involvement in the individual's business. 

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Nick Fedyk of the Hoya Newspaper writes

Legally speaking, gambling is a game “predominated by chance,” and while chance does play a role in poker, skill plays an even bigger role — and that makes all the difference. Some players get lucky sometimes, but no player can be lucky all the time. Professional poker players don’t make a living off luck: that’s just not possible. Have you ever heard of a professional roulette player? Or someone who is really good at playing slots? There is a reason the same players end up at the final tables of the World Series of Poker year after year: They are consistently better at the game than the rest of us.

Noted gaming attorney Maurice “Mac” VerStandig offered his take on the decision and its potential impact (or lack thereof) on the Internet poker sector as per an interview with PokerNews.com, also pointing out that Judge Weinstein is not some “newly minted cowboy judge looking for his day in the sun”, but rather a highly regarded man on the bench with “who has garnered immense respect during his career”.

Since the heart of the DiCristiana case is dedicated to a statistical analysis of poker being a game of skill, not chance, the inference becomes clear: the UIGEA may not encompass poker in as rigid and clear a manner as was once thought.

This is not to suggest that PokerStars will triumphantly return to the American marketplace next week, or that credit card companies will back off of their prohibitions on transfers of funds to those poker websites that do maintain a domestic presence. While Judge Weinstein’s opinion is important, and certainly sets an intriguing precedent, the issue of the UIGEA was not directly before him, so the impact of his findings are limited. The American legal system is built in large part on the idea that similar cases should be decided in a similar manner, but a doctrine known as “dicta” limits the abilities of a judge to decide an issue unless the defendant directly before that judge faces the issue directly. Accordingly, while Judge Weinstein’s opinion will be persuasive and important, it is unlikely to be the final word.

Still, the DiCristiana case may help to mold the final word on multiple fronts. Numerous states have gaming laws that, like the IGBA, define “gaming” or “gambling” without making specific reference to poker. Attorneys defending individuals prosecuted under these semi-ambiguous statutes will now be able to point to Judge Weinstein’s small dissertation on poker as a respectable legal authority.

- Gilbert Horowitz, Gambling911.com

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