By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A Colorado man is putting his cards on the table in hopes that the Colorado Supreme Court will determine that tournament style Texas Hold ’em poker is predominantly a game of skill, which would make the popular pastime legal throughout the state.
Kevin Raley is looking to appeal a district court’s ruling that poker is considered gambling under Colorado law, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) — a poker grassroots advocacy group — announced yesterday. A Weld County District Court judge ruled that poker is gambling because of the element of chance involved with the dealing of the cards. If tournament style Texas Hold’ em were to be considered a game of skill, it would not be considered gambling and could be legally played in tournaments throughout Colorado.
“The PPA is going to do everything in its power to support Mr. Raley’s efforts in order to protect PPA members and all poker players in the state of Colorado,” said a statement from Gary Reed, PPA’s Colorado state director. “I am especially alarmed because this ruling ignores the abundance of research that proves poker is a game of skill and confuses rather than clarifies the matter for law enforcement that may use their scarce resources to raid and arrest poker players instead of investigating real unlawful activity in the state.”
The Colorado Gaming Association (CGA), however, says the judge made the right decision in its ruling.
“Our position is that poker and blackjack are games of chance; therefore, they’re illegal outside of the three limited gaming towns,” said CGA executive director Lois Rice. “Just the sheer dealing of the cards is a random act. That’s why we consider it a game of chance more than a game of skill.”
Raley was one of five people charged with Professional Gambling, a class one misdemeanor, in a sting operation last year. Raley had organized a private poker club at a Greeley bar to play tournament style Texas Hold ’em. An undercover officer busted the tournament, resulting in the charges.
A jury found Raley not guilty of the gambling charges at the beginning of the year. During Raley’s trial, Professor Robert Hannum — a statistics professor at the University of Denver — argued that statistics prove that poker is a game of skill.
After the case ended, the Weld County district attorney appealed the ruling, saying that Hannum’s testimony shouldn’t have been allowed because Colorado courts have already concluded that, as a matter of law, poker is gambling. The district court sided with the district attorney. Although the court’s decision did not overturn the jury’s not guilty verdict, it did overturn the trial judge’s decision to allow Hannum to testify, putting the future of poker in Colorado in legal limbo, according to PPA.
“We clearly think this is the wrong interpretation of the law,” said PPA executive director John Pappas in a statement.
Gambling or skill?
Legal experts are split over the “gambling versus skill” debate.
Anthony Cabot, a Vegas lawyer who specializes in gaming, said empirical evidence proves that forms of poker like Texas Hold’ em are skill-based games. The fact that professional poker players often end up winning or ranking high in multiple tournaments means the game takes more skill than luck, he said.
Although there is some skill involved, a rookie can beat a professional poker player on select hands if they get the right cards, proving that the game is predominately luck based, countered David Stewart, another lawyer who specializes in gaming issues.
“I would be very surprised if a major court was to support (Raley’s) argument,” he said.
The PPA has aligned itself with offshore poker — the multimillion-dollar industry that was crippled by a 2006 piece of legislation — and is pushing to get poker legalized on the grassroots level in hopes of expanding that momentum nationwide, according to Stewart. While Stewart said the PPA has “very weak support,” Cabot said more and more people are starting to understand the skill involved in poker.
If Raley’s case goes before the Colorado Supreme Court, it will likely come down to the skill of the lawyers and the arguments presented, according to Cabot.
“There are a quite a bit of aspects for Texas Hold’ em that have tremendous skill involved in them,” he said. “But, obviously, there is also chance involved. The question is, which predominates the other?”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters