Federal Judge: Poker not illegal gambling
Judge Jack Weinstein rules game is more skill than chance and therefore falls outside IGBA remit – could impact defences of remaining eight Black Friday indictees
A Brooklyn judge has ruled that poker is “not predominately a game of chance” and therefore not classifiable as gambling under the terms of the Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA), a ruling that could have a bearing on the charges and possible sentences of the remaining Black Friday indictees.
The ruling from Judge Jack Weinstein was made in relation to a case involving New York resident Lawrence DiCristina, who had been arrested and charged under IGBA for running a poker room in the borough of Staten Island.
Activities listed as gambling in the official wording of IGBA include: “Poolselling, bookmaking, maintaining slot machines, roulette wheels or dice tables, and conducting lotteries, policy, bolita or numbers games, or selling chances therein.”
Weinstein, however acknowledged that “The fact that the statute does not explicitly mention poker, in itself, is not conclusive evidence that that game should not be considered gambling under the IGBA.”
One of the factors behind his ruling is that “As a matter of statutory construction, poker must fall under the general definition of gambling and be sufficiently similar to those games listed in the statute to fall within its prohibition… It does not.”
Weinstein also recognised that only “games of chance” qualify as gambling under IGBA, and that poker is predominated by skill over chance.
Each of the defendants in the Black Friday criminal proceedings has been charged under IGBA as well as under other separate legislation, and with only three receiving sentences to date – John Campos, Brent Beckley and Ira Rubin – it remains to be seen whether Judge Weinstein’s ruling has an impact on the defences of the remaining eight indictees.
An earlier motion to dismiss, filed on behalf of Campos and co-defendant Chad Elie in October last year, cited the “vague” nature of IGBA in relation to poker and argued that “The money laundering conspiracy charge, Count Nine, is based on the alleged specified unlawful activity of operating an illegal gambling business…”
In the judge’s 120-page opinion he said: “The government acknowledges that skill plays a role in poker. Game play in poker is influenced by both the cards dealt (determined by chance) and the decisions made by players (determined by skill). While players’ actions are influenced by chance events, their decisions are based on skill.”
Weinstein then went on to add: “The ability of players to influence game play distinguishes poker from the other games, such as sports betting (bookmaking), enumerated in the IGBA,” but recognised “That chance plays some role in the outcome of the game does not imply that poker is predominately a game of chance rather than predominately a game of skill.”
Stating that “Neither the text of the IGBA nor its legislative history demonstrate that Congress designed the statute to cover all state gambling offenses. Nor does the definition of “gambling” include games, such as poker, which are predominated by skill,” Judge Weinstein dismissed the charges against DiCristina.
The findings have received a positive response from lobby group the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), which provided briefs and testimony in support of DiCristina’s defence.
PPA executive director John Pappas described the ruling as “A major victory for the game of poker and the millions of Americans who enjoy playing it.
“Judge Weinstein gave the government an opportunity to prove that poker was a game of predominant chance, but even federal prosecutors could not provide an expert of any kind thatcould conclude that chance predominates over skill in poker. We could not be more pleased withthe outcome of today’s decision,” Pappas added.
Meanwhile, lawyer David Deitch of DC firm Ifrah Law told eGaming Review “Judge Weinstein’s decision corroborates what we have been saying for some time – that poker is not simply a game of chance, but one in which players’ skills play a predominant role in determining the outcome of hands.
“The Department of Justice’s attempts to use the Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA) to prosecute poker is overreaching, plain and simple,” added Deitch.
Story by – Tom Victor