As die-hard readers may know, I have pushed legislation for the past two years to re-classify poker and similar card games as “games of skill” so that they are exempt from the state’s anti-gambling statute. (A related bill permits charitable organizations to allow card playing for money, just as they authorize “bingo”).
Anyhow, there is a case from the City of Portsmouth, where “The Poker Palace” contacted friendly card games with the house portion being donated to local charities, such as a childrens’ hospital. The operator actually notified police that he was doing this, so that they were not unawares.
To make a long story short … the Commonwealth’s Attorney moved to shut them down based on Virginia’s anti-gambling law which bars cash prizes for “games of chance” (as opposed to beauty contests, car races or playing darts).
At trial, the defendants showed through expert testimony how skilled players use mathematical models to determine probability — and win the majority of hands. (This is way over my head. I’m just reporting here).
The Circuit Court ruled against Poker Palace, who promptly filed an appeal. Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court “granted the writ” which means that they will review the petition and issue a written opinion.
I’m not a poker player and I don’t usually follow appellate cases, at least those which don’t effect my clients. But I’ve always thought the anti-gambling statute was way too overbroad and has had a chilling effect on a lot of perfectly innocent activity.
While my bill never passed the legislature, a favorable ruling from Richmond in the next few months may render the whole question moot — and give a lifeline to charitable organizations (Elks, Moose, American Legion, etc) which are struggling for new sources of revenue.