Four years ago the police in the South Carolina town of Mount Pleasant busted a group of residents playing poker in a private home. Whilst many of those arrested took the easy way out and pleaded guilty, five took exception to the raid and hired lawyers to defend them in court, claiming that poker did not fall within the definition of illegal gambling because it was a game in which skill predominated, not chance.
They lost the first round in a local city court, but lodged an appeal which saw the case appear on the rolls of a South Carolina Circuit Court, where Judge Markley Dennis lifted the spirits of poker players by ruling, after hearing extensive academic and other evidence, that Texas Hold'Em was primarily a game of skill.
However, the state of South Carolina did not rest there, with Attorney General Henry McMaster taking the issue directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court on the grounds that the case had become a constitutional matter.
The court will hear the case later this year at a date yet to be decided, but the defiant poker players will again put forward their arguments, and legal representative Jeffrey Phillips believes there is a good chance that the matter will be settled in their favour and once and for all.
Adding to the capabilities of the defendants is the Poker Players Alliance, which is supplying legal assistance and advice, raising comparisons with games like chess, tennis and golf.
The case is important not only because it has the potential to remove the game from the risk of prosecution for ‘illegal gambling', but because a favourable ruling could become a positive element in efforts within the state to pass legalization regulating and therefore formally legalising the game.
“The South Carolina case is not a direct corollary to our efforts in Congress,” says PPA execvutive director John Pappas. “It’s just part of our mission. We believe a rising tide lifts all boats, and a victory in South Carolina would help us make the point that poker is a game of skill – on the internet and elsewhere."