Judge Ruled Poker is Not Gambling because it is a Game of Skill; Appeals Court Disagrees

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A New York federal judge surprised many in the gambling business, not to mention government regulators, when he ruled that poker is not a form of gambling because it is a game of skill.


U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein’s 2012 ruling came in the case of Lawrence DiCristina, who along with others ran a poker club in the back room of a Staten Island warehouse. After authorities found out about the illegal operation that offered Texas Hold ‘em, DiCristina was arrested, charged and found guilty of violating the federal law banning illegal gambling.


But Weinstein vacated DiCristina’s conviction after he concluded that the federal law prohibiting illegal gambling did not cover Texas Hold ‘em. The judge also emphasized in his ruling that poker amounted to a game of skill, not chance, implying that the distinction supported the exclusion of poker as an illegal activity—a matter about which, he said, the law is vague.


When the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was asked to review the ruling, a three-judge panel rejected (pdf) Weinstein’s decision and reinstated DiCristina’s conviction.


“There is nothing in the legislative history suggesting that whether a game was predominated by chance was relevant to whether a business operating that game constituted an illegal gambling business,” Judge Chester Straub wrote for the panel.


The poker industry, meanwhile, says some lasting good may still come from Weinstein’s legal rationale.


“It's still an important case because one thing that was not reversed, just found not to matter, was Judge Weinstein’s very thorough, well-researched and reasoned opinion that poker is a game of skill,” Patrick Fleming, director of litigation support for the Poker Players Alliance, which presented amicus briefs in support of DiCristina during written arguments, told Poker News. “Just because the interpretation of IGBA [Internet Gambling Business Act] didn’t go our way doesn’t mean the other part about skill in poker was wrong or meaningless. If this ever comes up again in a state case, that judge can be asked to read Judge Weinstein’s argument.”


Meanwhile, DiCristina could be sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Appeals Court Overrules Decision in Lawrence DiCristina Poker Case (by Matthew Kredell, Poker News)

Skill or No, Poker Smacks of Illegal Gambling (by Nick Divito, Courthouse News Service)

United States v. Lawrence DiCristina (Second Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)


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