Poker Still Illegal in New York, Despite Ruling

By Scott Ross
|  Thursday, Aug 23, 2012  |  Updated 3:41 AM PDT
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NYC poker players will still have to face off against the likes of Teddy KGB for the time being.

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The headlines seem to hail the dawn of a new era. Poker was deemed by a judge to be a "Game of Skill," and better yet, "Not Gambling Under Federal Law."

But you may want to hold off on your plans to turn your den into a poker parlor.

Federal Judge Jack Weinstein on Tuesday ruled that a case involving a game of poker hosted in a warehouse in Staten Island that Texas Hold 'em was not a game of chance, and thus not illegal under the federal Illegal Gambling Business Act.

But local and state laws could still apply, meaning that the victory does not pave the way for everyone to open poker businesses now, experts said.

Even so, gaming advocates were pleased, having long believed the element of skill is a requisite for success.

"Poker is a game of incomplete information, but you do have enough information to make tactical decisions based on that information, which gives you an edge over an opponent that does not know how to use that information," said Peter Alson, president of the United States Poker Federation,

Bill Gantz, a partner at SNR Denton U.S. LLP in Chicago, is a "huge advocate for gaming" and specializes in its legal issues. While he agrees that poker is "clearly predominantly a game of skill," he thinks the celebratory verve with which this decision has been met is premature.

"Every time a decision like this comes down, you'll see a thousand blogs and articles, 'Poker's Legal in New York,' which shows just how superficial the analysis is," said Gantz by phone. "But this is not going to have an impact, really, on U.S. government enforcement or outlook toward Internet gambling. I don’t think they're going to do anything differently."

What Weinstein realized, says Gantz, is "that the reason for the statute in the first place was to address organized crime involvement in enumerated games, which are the nine games listed in the definition (pool-selling, bookmaking, slot machines, roulette wheels, dice tables, and conducting lotteries, policy, bolita or numbers games), poker not being one of them at the time, in 1970, when this act was passed."

"One very important thing very early in Judge Weinsteins's opinion, on page 6, he notes that he's not deciding whether poker is a game of chance or gambling for New York law, he actually observed that New York has repeatedly and routinely considered poker to be an illegal form of gambling. What he's looking at is whether or not a business involving, he even says, 'involving an illegal poker game,' violates the federal IGBA (Illegal Gambling Business Act). So he's not even saying this is a legal game, let's be clear."

Bottom line: "It's not a game changer as far as the government's enforcement activities are concerned," said Gantz.

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