SC court: Organized, in-home poker games violate law

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COLUMBIA — Organized poker games are illegal, even when they happen in a private home, the state’s highest court ruled Wednesday.

In a split decision, justices also noted that centuries-old state gambling law prohibits any wagering on Texas Hold ’Em and dismissed the idea that poker could be exempt from that law as a game of skill rather than of chance.

The case began with a raid on a home near Charleston in 2006. Police seized several thousand dollars in cash and a small amount of marijuana and ticketed about 25 people for illegal gambling.

A local judge found five men guilty, but a circuit court judge overturned that decision in 2009. State prosecutors appealed, and the high court heard arguments in 2010.

Read literally, a South Carolina law on the books since 1802 makes illegal any game with cards or dice – including popular board games such as Monopoly. Henry McMaster, who was state attorney general when the case was argued before the high court, said that he followed a loose interpretation of that law, only considering games that rely more on chance than a player’s skill illegal.

On Wednesday, justices said the convictions should not have been overturned. The justices ruled that, when it’s used for organized games – such as the one in 2006, which was advertised online – even a private home can be considered “a place of gaming.”

The justices said that the skill vs. chance argument had little bearing on whether state law had been broken as long as money changed hands.

Billy Wilkins, an attorney for the men, said the justices made it clear that casual, friendly poker games in a private home are not illegal in South Carolina.

In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Jean Toal said she agreed with the majority decision but called on state lawmakers to revise South Carolina’s 200-year-old gambling statute, calling it “hopelessly outdated.”


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