Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Palmetto Poker: The South Carolina Ruling (Recommended Reads)

Once upon a time I used to post fairly regularly here about various federal bills and state-level cases and/or debates about poker’s legality, especially the online variety.

In fact, whenever I’m asked about how I started the blog and the early days (in the spring of 2006), I usually mention how it began as a simple outlet to discuss my own low-limit adventures online, then when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was signed into law a few months later (in October), I found myself writing about all sorts of other things happening in the poker world.

In some ways, that development probably helped ensure the blog would become less inward-looking and more interesting than if I had simply stuck with talking about hands and uncertainly mimicking other, more able writers of strategy and theory. The whole UIGEA mess and other, subsequent legal machinations would continue for years thereafter, and I was sufficiently energized by the whole situation to keep writing about every new bill or development.

But as I’ve mentioned here before more than once, I never felt all that equipped to analyze what was happening. I’m a decent reader, I think, even of sometimes opaque legal documents. And so I thought it was somewhat useful at least to summarize what I thought was happening, if only to help with my own understanding. But even there I was never wholly confident.

Thus one day when I was asked by a site to be the “legal correspondent” who’d report on such things, I had to decline. I knew I could fake it to some extent, but I also knew I wasn’t really the best person to do such reporting. And on top of that, by then (a couple of years ago) I’d gotten a little fatigued by the whole situation, which seemed to involve a lot of variation on a tired theme -- namely, nothing was getting passed, arguments were never conclusive, and those debating legislation or ruling on cases themselves often seemed only partially to understand the first thing about what they were discussing.

Not to mention it was the same friggin’ story over and over and over again. It was like reporting on the same exact hands repeatedly, only with different players. Except there was never any final all-in or resolution to come.

So I mostly stopped writing about that stuff. Sometimes I’m tempted, though, such as last week when the South Carolina Supreme Court came down with an interesting, conflicted ruling regarding the legality of home games. But now I’m more apt just to read others’ summaries and analyses than to attempt my own, and I’ve just read some good ones I thought I’d recommend.

One comes from our lawyer friend Grange95 on his crAAKKer blog, who provides an excellent explanation of the unusual split ruling delivered by the five judges. In fact, the first part of the title of his post -- “Same Song, Different Verse” -- kind of evokes that idea I’m referring to that we’ve heard all of this before many times over. Although as his explanation shows, there were a couple of new twists involved here.

In this case, two of the judges ruled that a regular SC poker game with a low buy-in (just $20) but which saw the host take a rake to cover expenses and which advertised online in order to attract players was indeed illegal gambling according to a century-old statute. Meanwhile, two other judges dissented, while the fifth agreed with points made by both sides before ultimately concurring with the “plurality opinion” (i.e., the judges who found the games illegal).

After providing a nice, clear explanation of the ruling, Grange95 adds some analysis that also looks ahead to how this particular ruling may affect future developments. The fact that the whole “skill-vs.-luck” issue was mostly set aside in this case as irrelevant (by both sides) is intriguing, as is the way the ruling kind of throws things back to the SC legislature to try to craft a better, more up-to-date law regarding illegal gambling. I also find interesting the way all of the judges seem to have voiced a kind of “common sense” or pragmatic view of how the kind of game being spread in their case (with a rake, and soliciting players online) differed from “casual games” played between friends in a private residence (with no rake, and not advertising to attract players).

Grange95 thinks new legislation is a likely next move in South Carolina, and isn’t too optimistic about what may result from a modernized illegal gambling law (i.e., “Things Could Get Worse For Poker Players”). He also has some interesting things to say about the Poker Players Alliance and its relative impotence both in this case and generally speaking. So check out Grange95’s post for a full rundown of what happened in SC last week and what it may possibly mean going forward.

Rakewell, a.k.a. the Poker Grump, added some thoughts regarding the case as well that serve as a good follow-up after reading Grange95’s post. He sides with the dissenting view in the case, and offers some thoughtful criticisms of the majority’s argument and of the strange I-agree-with-the-dissenters-but-concur-with-the-plurality position of the judge who cast the swing vote.

Grange95 also recommends a PokerFuse article reporting on the case written by Haley Hintze which provides a good, short digest of the case and its implications.

There are other articles in the usual places regarding the SC case, but most just echo each other and none seem to offer anything close to the thoughtful summary/analysis provided in the above-mentioned posts. So if you’ve been hearing about this SC business and were looking to learn more, check out those posts.

A funny side note... when searching around for other reports and/or analyses on last week’s SC ruling, I quickly came upon an article from early 2009 on the same case reporting on the ruling that subsequently was appealed to the SC Supreme Court. It sounds like the defense then made a lot of the whole “skill-vs.-luck” issue and that the judge there even went so far as to acknowledge hold’em to be a game of skill while nonetheless issuing his guilty verdict.

Seems like a competent enough article, I guess. I wonder, though, if the author really knew what he was talking about.

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Blogger Grange95 said...

Thanks for you kind words.

Interesting 2009 article by one of the titans of the poker media. The quote from PPA director Pappas was interesting, considering how it lauded the Chimento district court decision as part of a poker-positive trend including, "other key legal victories for the rights of poker players in Kentucky, Colorado, and Pennsylvania." A funny thing happened on the way to legalization in each of those cases ...

But, of course, I'm the villain for pointing out the PPA has had a certain lack of success in court. Rage against the dying of the light, dear PPA!


11/27/2012 5:04 PM  

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