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South Carolina Supreme Court Says Home Poker Games Illegal

Any Play For Real Money Violates Law From Year 1802


South Carolina has flip-flopped on poker once again.

The state’s Supreme Court ruled last week that the illegal gambling convictions of five men should not have been overturned in 2009. The case stems from a raid of a private real-money poker game three years prior. The game, located in Charleston, had been advertised online.

“The reason we’re fighting the law is because we want to get our state representatives to change this law,” Bob Chimento, one of the defendants in the case, said years ago. “We’re just a bunch of average Joes playing cards. We want to be able to play cards in our homes. They’re trying to intimidate people to quit playing poker.”

The legal battle went on for more than six years prior to last week’s ruling.

The Associated Press reported that the Supreme Court sees these poker games as unlawful, even if run from home, and it doesn’t matter under the law whether poker is a game of skill.

“Whether an activity is gaming/gambling is not dependent upon the relative roles of chance and skill, but whether there is money or something of value wagered on the game’s outcome,” the justices wrote in the split decision.

The opinion is in direct conflict with a circuit judge who wrote in 2009 that since poker isn’t like traditional gambling it wouldn’t fall under the anti-gambling statute.

The law that applies to the case dates back more than two hundred years. It bans “any game with cards or dice” — stretching as far as to potentially cover board games.

Home games where no money is exchanged appear to be OK, according to the recent opinion.

The muddled legal waters have prompted some in the state to push for changing the law. According to the Associated Press, lawmakers tried this year to make “friendly” home games explicitly legal, but efforts didn’t progress.

One justice wrote that the current law is “hopelessly outdated.”

South Carolina currently allows lotteries and charitable gambling. The state doesn’t allow land-based casinos, although some are trying to bring those to South Carolina.

The state has two casino boats that offer Las Vegas-style gambling. These boats sail three miles into international waters before gamblers are allowed to place bets.