S. Carolina Supreme Court to Decide: Game of Skill or Luck?

Unscientific poll on how much of each

by , Oct 18, 2010 | 9:53 am

Poker is back in the state-level Supreme Courts … this time in South Carolina, with five appointed justices set to decide if playing Texas Hold’em in a private residence is a crime.

The decision, which will likely reverberate throughout the Carolina underground and beyond, will rely heavily on matters of skill and chance involved in poker, as gamecock law calls for a “dominate factor test” to determine whether or not a game violates South Carolina gambling statutes. Like we saw in Kentucky and Washington, the SC SC will just be hearing arguments tomorrow, for about 30 minutes from both sides combined, and not issuing a ruling for a few months. But when they do … well read below for what’s at stake beyond a few misdemeanor convictions.

In the meantime … we know there’s skill in poker, but how much is often debatable. Where on the continuum do you draw the lines for these different “games”?

Legality of “G-Vegas” underground in the balance

The case stems from a police raid of a Mount Pleasant “home game” in 2006, where two tables of raked low-stakes action in a private residence constituted a for-profit operation. Five arrested players fought the misdemeanor charges, saying they weren’t “gambling” … they were playing poker! They lost in municipal court, but won on appeal, with the judge ordering convictions thrown out because Texas hold’em was skill-based, he declared, and the state’s anti-gambling laws were “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.” The state attorney general screamed balderdash — if an underground poker room soliciting players on the internet ain’t illegal gambling then what is? — which brings us to tomorrow’s testimony.

If the high court agrees poker is indeed a game of skill — and therefore violates no law — poker rooms in South Carolina could become as ubiquitous as pot shops in California and Colorado. Gotta think that won’t be lost on the justices when they consider the application of relatively old laws to a 21st-century poker world that couldn’t have been imagined when they were written.

4 Comments to “S. Carolina Supreme Court to Decide: Game of Skill or Luck? ”

  1. Grange95

    Legal quibbles: There will be no testimony tomorrow, merely argument. Also, South Carolina has not adopted the dominate factor test, at least not yet. The parties are bickering about whether that test should be used.

    More to the point, poker players looking for this case to turn on “skill vs. luck” arguments will likely be disappointed (despite the PPA’s attempt to frame the case as a skill vs. luck argument). The arguments are more about interpreting the statutory definition of “house of gaming” and deciding whether the state outlawed poker when it enacted a sweeping ban on all dice and card games (with a few specific exceptions). Basically, the state’s argument is that the relevant statute bans poker because it is a card game played for stakes/money; in their argument, skill vs. luck is pretty much irrelevant. Look for the court to rule in favor of the state on exactly those grounds, though the court might find a way to get around the “house of gaming” issue to let private games escape prosecution so long as there is no rake or fee charged by the house.

  2. DanM

    thanks for the corrections. i got the dominate test thing from the post and courier article. did i misread that?

    overall, i agree with your take completely. but it could spark some overall “cleanup” of SC gambling laws if the court addresses some of what current statutes can’t cover.

  3. Grange95

    Yeah, the Courier article stated the court has actually adopted the dominate factor test (technically, “dominant factor”, but close enough for a newspaper). I have an advantage, though, in having procured copies of the parties’ appellate briefs, so I was able to track the legal arguments better than just reading the lower court decision. It appears both sides agree that the S. Carolina supreme court hasn’t decided on a legal test for gaming (e.g., “pure chance”, “dominant factor”, etc.), though it seems a dissenting opinion in a prior gaming case suggested the court would utilize a “dominant factor” analysis. Of course, the state’s argument is that there’s no need to even get that far. In the state’s view, once you have cards and money/stakes, you’re gambling, no matter now much skill or chance is involved.

    If I get some free time, I’ll put out a longer analysis on my blog later this week.

  4. Luke Thomas

    My take is that poker is stone gambling for the lions share of people who play. That being said I’m going to throw out a random figure of say 30% which signifies the number of poker players that play with a level of skill that increases their odds of winning. My other figure is 15%. That figure is the amount of the 30% who actually consistently win.

    You may ask how I know all this. Well the answer to that is simple. I am the smartest man alive.