A Pennsylvania judge has dismissed a case against a resident who ran a small-stakes poker game out of his garage on the basis that poker is a game of skill and can’t be governed under the Commonwealth’s gambling laws.
Columbia County Judge Thomas James couldn’t be clearer in the last paragraph summing up his ruling: “The Court finds that Texas hold’em poker is a game where skill predominates over chance. Thus, is it not ‘unlawful gambling’ under the Pennsylvania Code.”
The ruling only covers the judge’s jurisdiction, which is Columbia and Montour counties, located north-East Pennsylvania.
The Commonwealth charged two people with unlawful gambling for hosting a $1-$2 no-limit game in their garage. No rake was charged, but players were encouraged to tip the dealer. State police got wind of the game and sent an undercover officer to it around 20 different times to investigate, and charges were filed.
Pennsylvania’s laws governing gambling specifically define gambling games as games that rely predominantly on chance.
Pete Campana, the attorney representing the two defendants and a life-long poker player, knows that poker is not a game of chance.
“I’ve seen poker players of all calibers; there’s no question in my mind that skill controls poker more than luck of the draw,” he said.
Campana referenced a wide-range of texts, including “Caro’s Secrets of Winning Poker,” and noted that there are more than 600 books on improving poker play. The entire ruling can be found on the Poker Player Alliance’s webpage.
“The judge in this case issued a well-researched and reasoned decision which supports arguments the PPA and others have made about poker being a game of predominant skill,” said John Pappas, executive director for the PPA. “The decision does not have legal precedent outside the two rural counties in Pennsylvania, however, it is a significant victory in the overall battle to demonstrate that poker is not pure chance gambling. The PPA hopes to leverage this win in other trials in other states where we have an opportunity to argue the skill of poker.”
Campana does believe that the ruling may force legislators to either expand Pennsylvania’s unlawful gambling law to include poker or change the law to regulate the game of skill.