Tuesday, May 01, 2007, 1:20 PM

Poker Is A Game Of Chance, The COA Holds

In a decision today raising the question whether poker is predominantly a game of chance or a game of skill, the Court of Appeals held it's a predominantly a game of chance. The case is Joker Club, L.L.C. v. Hardin.

The case arose when plaintiff sought permission from the government to open a poker club in Durham County. The government responded that the club would be illegal under N.C.G.S. 14-292. That statute, which has been on the books since the 19th Century (and which now explicitly exempts the state lottery), says that "any person or organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays at or bets on any game of chance at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor."

Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance, and thus falls outside the statute. His witnesses included a consultant who runs poker tournaments, a casino manager from the Bahamas, and a professional poker player from Vegas. They testified that skill will prevail over luck in a poker tournament; that there are strategies a poker player may employ to improve mathematical odds; and that the skills include patience, self control, memory, the ability to analyze odds, and the ability to read people. One witness, a poker player from North Carolina, testified that his poker skills improved greatly since he began studying poker and reading books on winning poker strategies.

The State's witness, a law enforcement officer, testified that he has played poker for more than 39 years and that luck ultimately prevailed.

The Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Calabria, held that poker is predominantly a game of chance, not skill, and contrasted billiards, chess, and bowling. The Court said that poker "presents players with different hands, making the players unequal in the same game and subject to defeat at the turn of a card." Poker, she said, is a game where more skilled players may defeat novices, but "novices may yet prevail with a simple run of luck," because a skilled player "is always subject to defeat at the turn of a card, an instrumentality beyond his control."

During oral argument the plaintiff analogized poker to golf, arguing that while a weekend golfer might by luck beat a professional like Tiger Woods on one hole, Tiger would prevail over 18 holes. The Court rejected the analogy.

This decision might come as a surprise to the fans of ESPN's televised poker tournaments. But it is consistent with the law of other jurisdictions.

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