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On Judge Weinstein’s Poker Ruling...

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

News of U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein’s ruling regarding poker quickly spread across the nation, to the delight of poker enthusiasts.

 Specifically, on August 21, the good judge decided that a New York electronics dealer had not violated a federal gambling law by offering Texas hold’em poker games in his warehouse. The judge’s rationale: Unlike roulette or slot machines, poker is not “predominated by chance.” This ruling focused renewed interest on the age-old question: Is poker a game of skill, or chance (luck)? Which predominates?

 The Wall Street Journal’s “Marketplace” section gave the judge’s ruling front-page status. And it presented a concomitant comparison of games: (1) Chess is a game of pure skill. (2) Poker, bridge and golf are games that involve “more skill than chance.” (3) Sports betting, Blackjack, and Craps involve more chance than skill. (4) Slot machines, Roulette, Baccarat, and lotteries are games of “pure or nearly pure chance.”

 Agreed. The differences are real. There are games that involve more or less skill compared to chance. But, even if playing poker were more of a game of chance rather than one of skill, would that be a valid basis for making it illegal to play the game?

 Consider this: Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 - 1274), the historically renowned Catholic philosopher and theologian, noted that human law is supported by reason, and enacted for the common good. Legal scholars explain that “law is nothing more than a set of rules to provide order and governance of society.” (Wikipedia) My Point of View. There are two issues to be considered: First, if laws are enacted for the common good, how does playing the game of poker detract from the “common good”? Who is harmed – other than perhaps the player himself – if he chooses to risk his assets in a game of poker or any form of gambling, including investing in a new business? Is society any worse or better off? People take risks every day; that’s their prerogative. Conclusion: There should be no law that is contingent on any difference as to the degree of skill vs. chance (luck). Hence, there ought be no laws preventing a person from playing poker, or making an investment; he has accepted the risk and it is of no concern to society.

 Secondly, I would maintain that poker is very much a “game” of investing. If you invest your money wisely, there is a better chance of success – a return on your investment (ROI), or a Positive Expectation if you are playing poker. But there is no assurance of success, you could lose! (Just think of the recent IPO of Facebook which today has less than half the value of its original stock price.) Does any court of law question the legality of making an investment in the stock market or a business enterprise. For that matter, if you engage in some form of sports, you risk being seriously injured. Who would even consider ruling college football an illegal activity? Surely, you and your teammates need to be skilled to win the football game; but still you take significant risk of injury. For that matter, you accept risk – the chance of injury – when you drive your car out of the driveway; even when you, as a pedestrian, walk across the street.

 That’s my opinion. Comments?

 Recently elected to the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame, George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Recently, he started teaching poker to aged war veterans with special healthcare needs at a new CalVet facility at the VA in West L.A. Contact George at

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