Two years ago, Mount Pleasant police in the Charleston area raided a home poker game, busting a number of players and making newspaper headlines. Whilst some of those charged accepted the penalties, 5 players have consistently fought the prosecution and will soon have their day in court, having secured a court order allowing them to argue the contentious skill vs. luck defence by asserting that poker, as a game of skill rather than luck, is not illegal.
The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston reports that if a town municipal judge agrees that the game of "Texas Hold 'em" relies sufficiently on wits, rather than good fortune, it could make an important contribution to the legalization of a card game played extensively in the United States and around the world. The other side of the coin for the 5 challengers could be punitive fines or further appeals.
"To my knowledge, the issue of whether skill or chance is the dominant factor in the game of poker has never been litigated with the presentation of evidence in the U.S.," Greenville lawyer Jeff Phillips, an avid poker enthusiast and attorney for the five players, told the Post and Courier.
Phillips has a two-page document containing an order from Municipal Court Judge J. Lawrence Duffy Jr. allowing the prosecution and the defence to present evidence, including expert testimony, in the long-running litigation.
The issue, as has been the case with similar defences that have been unsuccessful in the UK, will be followed with great interest by the industry, players and the media alike, given poker's great popularity and high profile everywhere. Both professional players and academic researchers, some at top colleges like Harvard, have claimed that skill plays a greater role than luck in the game, and there have been many treatises published on this intriguing aspect.
Phillips' told the Post and Courier: "While there is no disputing that the element of chance is present in poker — as in everything else in life — there are numerous skills a poker player must rely upon in playing the game of poker that will determine whether that player is successful or not," he said.
During a previous court hearing in August, Phillips asked the court to dismiss the charges because South Carolina's 200-year-old anti-card, anti-dice laws are too antiquated and vague for anyone to make sense of today. For example, the law mentions antique games, such as roly-poley, rouge et noir and draughts. Phillips also contended that the house raided was not an illegal casino or gaming venue under the state's gaming laws, as claimed by the prosecution.
A court date has yet to be decided; in the meantime, the prosecution declined to comment on the matter.