Gambling is legal! And so is playing poker

Sep 3, 2013 3:00 AM

In the August 13, 2013 issue of GamingToday, it was announced that on August 6, “the 2nd Circuit Court (U.S. Court of Appeals) reversed a lower court’s ruling that (previously) had stated that poker was a game of skill and not gambling, and therefore not illegal under the Illegal Gambling Business Act.”

In rejecting the lower court’s ruling, the 2nd Circuit Court used the definition of “gambling” as stated in the Illegal Gambling Business Act, 18 U.S.C. §1955:

“A person engages in gambling when he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”

On that basis, poker was deemed to be “gambling” under N.Y. Penal Law 225.00(2).

Note that “skill” is not addressed, although it is recognized as a factor in the outcome of the contest of chance. For centuries, there had been an ongoing debate as to whether poker should be regarded as “gambling” depending on whether skill or chance (luck) predominates in playing the game: skill vs. luck? With the latest court ruling, that question no longer is at issue.

More important, as we will explain, this ruling actually makes the case in favor of poker being legal – lawful – all the stronger.

My Thesis

Let’s accept this legal definition of “gambling.” Obviously the higher court likes it. “Gambling” is defined based on several criteria: Risking something of value (such as your life or money); Chance (same as “luck”); Lack of control (you cannot control the path of a speeding car, nor what cards the dealer will turn up on the flop); and Receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome (successfully get safely across the street or win the pot in a poker game).

The question then is: Should gambling be illegal? If gambling is not deemed to be illegal, then poker, even if declared to be a form of gambling, also is lawful.

Using these criteria for gambling, how many common activities do you often engage in that would be labeled “gambling” based on this definition? For example, did you drive your car this evening to get to the casino to enjoy your favorite game of poker and socialize with poker buddies?

Realize that you staked your life – risked your life, certainly something of great value – when you drove your car on our roads; there was a chance – not under your control – that another car, driven perhaps by a driver under the influence of alcohol or while his attention was diverted by speaking on his cell phone, would speed down the road and smash into your car.

A bad accident? Injury? Death? There is no question about it. You did gamble; fortunately, the odds were heavily in your favor. You didn’t lose this time! But, yes, you gambled – with your life at stake.

What about investing in the stock market? (Lots of risk there!) Undertaking a new business venture? (Many fail! Some succeed.) Ever investing in options on the stock market? The other day, I walked across the street at an intersection and had to run to avoid being struck by a speeding city-owned bus. (Risking something of value – just to get across the street!)

Life insurance? (The insurance company is risking its dollars.) How about playing bingo at your local senior center? Everyone will agree these are all legal activities. Gambling? Yes, undeniably so. All are forms of gambling based on the criteria! Just like playing poker.

The Bottom Line

We need not debate as to whether skill or luck (chance) are the key factors, and which predominates in the game of poker. According to the recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, this no longer is an issue. Instead, just accept this clearly stated criteria for “gambling.”

Realize that so many things we do – daily activities that are routine in our lives – all are forms of gambling. And all are considered very ethical and legal! So therefore, gambling also is legal! How, then, can anyone – never mind a court of law with intelligent jurists – dare to tag poker with an “illegal” badge? To do so would be outright discrimination. Fair is fair; let’s not discriminate against the game of poker. Gambling is legal! And so is playing poker.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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