Federal judge: Poker's no crapshoot. No crime, either

Wed Aug 22, 2012 5:01pm EDT
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By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge for the first time has given legal backing to something card sharks have known for ages: Poker is a game of skill, not chance.

In a 120-page ruling that advocates of legalized online poker say could further their cause, U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn threw out the conviction of a New Jersey man for hosting a high-stakes poker game at a Staten Island, New York, warehouse.

Lawrence DiCristina's twice-a-week games of "Texas Hold'em" do not qualify as "gambling" under a 1970 federal gambling law, Weinstein ruled on Tuesday. The law bans games of chance such as dice throwing and roulette but does not explicitly outlaw poker.

"The government must demonstrate that it is more probable than not that poker is predominated by chance rather than skill," Weinstein wrote. "It has failed to do so."

"Expert poker players draw on an array of talents, including facility with numbers, knowledge of human psychology, and powers of observation and deception," he wrote. "Players can use these skills to win, even if chance has not dealt them the better hand."

Weinstein said DiCristina could have been prosecuted under New York law, which defines poker as falling under the common-law definition of illegal games of chance. But DiCristina was not charged by local prosecutors under state law.

DiCristina had tried to prevent his case from going to trial, offering testimony from experts who said poker players could significantly increase their odds of winning with skills such as "reading" opponents and playing certain hands.

But the judge allowed the case to proceed, and a jury convicted him in July. His lawyer moved to set aside the verdict, prompting Weinstein to revisit DiCristina's earlier arguments.   Continued...

Poker players compete in Day 7 of the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold'em main event at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 16, 2012. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus