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Playing the Odds on Poker's Legality

Those of you who enjoy anteing up for a barroom game of poker might want to check out recent court actions involving gamblers. That line between the friendly game of cards and the kind that can get you arrested seems to be getting thinner.

DeeDee Correll at the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday on a spate of recent poker player arrests in homes, bars and other small-time venues around the country. A case possibly headed for the Colorado Supreme Court involves a $20 buy-in for a Texas Hold’Em game at a bar in Greeley.

The defendants in these cases claimed that poker takes more brains than luck to win, a distinction that would exempt them from gambling laws in 37 states. The argument worked for the players at the Greeley bar, and for and a man in Pennsylvania running a poker game of out of his garage. The host of a Texas Hold’Em tournament in a Pennsylvania fire house wasn’t so lucky.

In all likelihood, few prosecutors are interested in going after small-time poker games in which no one takes an extra cut to play. And even when there is a little cash for the host, perhaps you’re thinking that federal privacy laws might protect a little profitable poker operation in your own basement.

But a ruling in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday included a rejection of any privacy protection for gamblers. The plaintiffs in the case, Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association v. Attorney General of the United States, had cited cases involving privacy in sexual matters as part of its attempt to strike down the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. The act bans credit card companies and others from processing payments for online bets.

Writing for a unanimous court, Judge Dolores Sloviter wrote: "gambling, even in the home, simply does not involve any individual interests of the same constitutional magnitude" as sexual privacy laws, and therefore "is not protected by any right to privacy under the Constitution."

Although the court upheld the law, it did offer a glimmer of hope for those who want to gamble online.

The court wrote: "It bears repeating that the Act itself does not make any gambling activity illegal. Whether the transaction in the Interactive's hypothetical constitutes unlawful Internet gambling turns on how the law of the state from which the bettor initiates the bet would treat the bet."

As Interactive Chairman Joe Brennan Jr. told The Wall Street Journal only six states currently have laws banning internet gambling. "There are 44 states where this is an opportunity for Internet gaming to become regulated and normalized," he said

If that happens, it may be safer to gamble with your computer than your friends.

Guest blogger Dee Gill is a freelance journalist who has written about the intersection of law, business and life for publications including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She is also studying to become a certified paralegal.

Posted by just a parent on September 4, 2009 at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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