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Gambling Or Not? SC Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Poker

The case of a 2008 poker game in a Charleston-area home arrives at the South Carolina Supreme Court today. The state is arguing that about 20 poker players caught that night were gambling illegally. Attorney Billy Wilkins says his clients weren't gambling that night in 2008 - they weren't just hoping for a lucky draw, they were matching wits. "Texas Hold 'Em is a game very much like bridge," says Wilkins. "It's a game where predominantly skill determines the winner." So, Wilkins says Texas Hold 'Em poker isn't covered in the state law that prohibits gambling. And that's the hand he'll play before the South Carolina Supreme Court today. A municipal court initially convicted his clients of illegal gaming, but that ruling was overturned by a higher court. South Carolina's Attorney General appealed that decision to the State Supreme Court. Wilkins says the state prohibition on gambling does not apply to a private home. "This is not a casino and we're not fighting for casinos," says Wilkins. "What I'm fighting for is the right of citizens to gather and play Texas Hold 'Em in their private residences." But the Attorney General argues in a court filing that the 2008 poker group was a "high-stakes gambling ring." The games were held weekly. The host took a cut of each hand. Dealers were hired to run the tables. Some of the participants were recruited through online message boards. Winners could take home thousands of dollars, though the average buy-in for the games was five or ten dollars. Attorney Bill Wilkins argues that a well-organized group of poker fans does not equate to a "high-stakes gambling ring." The case is being closely watched by poker advocates nationwide. John Pappas of the Poker Player Alliance says it's the first time a Texas Hold 'Em poker case has been argued before a state supreme court. However, he says the legality of poker is being challenged in several states. "Though I will say South Carolina has the most antiquated laws we've come across," says Pappas. "We're dealing with a statute from the early 1800's, which says playing any game of cards or dice is illegal in the state. We just think that's ridiculous. Not only would Texas Hold 'Em be unlawful, but games like Monopoly or Yahtzee." The South Carolina Attorney General says just because a statute is 200 years old doesn't mean it should be ignored.