2010-04-01 / Local & State

Pa. Appeals Court Tosses Ruling Legalizing Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Game

BLOOMSBURG, Pa. (AP) – A divided Penn-sylvania appeals court has overturned a county judge’s ruling that declared the popular poker game “Texas Hold ‘Em’’ to be legal.

The three-judge panel said in a 2-1 decision that Columbia / Montour Co. Judge Thomas James Jr. erred when he said the game did not meet the definition of gambling because the outcome is more dependent upon skill than chance.

Defense attorney Howard Bashman said the ruling is the first in which a Pennsylvania court has addressed whether poker is a game of skill or chance. He said he does not know whether his clients, 45-year-old Bloomsburg residents Diane Dent and Walter Watkins, will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but he believes their case is a strong one.

President Judge Kate Ford Elliott and Senior Judge Robert Freedberg cited the opinions of other courts in ruling that some skill is involved in poker but it is predominantly a game of chance. Senior Judge Robert Colville dissented, saying prosecutors had failed to present sufficient evidence to prove their contention that poker is a game of chance.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Leipold did not return a phone message Friday seeking comment.

The Poker Players Alliance and Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys filed briefs in support of the defendants, who were charged in September 2008 for hosting games inside a garage. Bashman said the games involved $1 or $2 wagers per game and winners would tip Dent, the dealer, after each hand, but paid no money to the “house’’ to play.

James, in his ruling in their favor, cited extensive literature maintaining that there was a scientific and statistical basis for the proposition that poker is a game of skill. Players, he said, must know the mathematical odds and possess psychological skills to read their opponents’ style.

“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.’’

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, said the organization is disappointed by the appeals court’s decision but he expects the case to go to the state’s highest court.

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