All Gambling is Not Legal

All Gambling is Not Legal

A Pennsylvania State couple arrested and convicted of illegal gambling for operating a Texas Hold ‘Em poker business in their garage appealed their case claiming that poker is not gambling, even when betting is involved. The couple claimed that poker is a game of skill, not of chance. Commonwealth v. Dent, et al., 992 A.2d 190 (Pa. Super. 2010), appeal denied, 20 A.2d 484, 487 (PA 2011).

Pennsylvania law defines gambling as an enterprise based on payment, chance and reward. All three elements must exist to make a game or event gambling. Gambling is illegal in Pennsylvania, except where specifically permitted by law. Pennsylvania law limits legal gambling to licensed casinos and racetracks, and to licensed charitable small games of chance. The Pennsylvania state lotteries and regional power-ball lotteries are also legal.

The Pennsylvania appellate court rejected the couple’s appeal, finding that while poker involves some skill, “the element of chance predominates.” Noting that throwing dice is purely a game of chance, while playing chess is purely a game of skill, the court observed that poker falls somewhere in between dice throwing and chess. But the court concluded that players’ use of skill in poker does not change the fact that it is largely a game of chance. “No amount of skill can change a deuce into an ace,” the court stated. The court found that a skilled player can win more often but “is always subject to defeat at the turn of a card, an instrumentality beyond his control.”

With the growth of licensed casinos in Pennsylvania and the expansion of legal casino gambling to include table games and poker, Pennsylvania residents and visitors can play and bet on poker games legally, but only in casinos.