Pennsylvania: Superior Court Overrides Previous Poker Ruling

A Pennsylvania county judge’s ruling that poker is a legal card game last year has been overruled by a Superior Court panel. The three judges said that Judge Thomas A. James was wrong to rule that poker is not a game of gambling. Thomas had based his decision on the facts that poker’s outcome is more dependent on skill rather than chance.

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The 2-1 ruling is expected to have some bearing on the future of poker legislation in the state. This is the first time that a Superior Court in the state has debated on whether poker can be considered a game of chance or skill.

In September 2008, two Bloomburg residents, Diane Dent and Walter Watkins were charged with hosting Texas Hold ‘em Poker games in the garage of their home. Wagers of around $1 or $2 were placed on these games and an undercover police trooper who participated in the games noted that no money was paid to the house.

Nevertheless, the state felt the need to take the two to court and in a surprising ruling, Judge James found in the defendants’ favor.

“The academic studies and the experts generally agree that a player must be skillful to be successful at poker,” James wrote. “At the outset, chance is equally distributed among the players. But the outcome is eventually determined by skill.”

However, the Columbia County District Attorney’s office was not happy wit the ruling and took the case to a higher court where the panel overturned Judge James’ original ruling.

An attorney for Dent and Watkins said that although he has not yet received an answer from his clients about whether they are going to take the case to the Supreme Court or not, they certainly have a strong case to do so if they wish.

The Director of the Poker Players Alliance, John Pappas expressed his disappointment with the ruling and said that he hoped the case would be taken to the Supreme Court.

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