RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Supreme Court declined to rule Thursday whether poker is a game of skill or a game of chance.
That question was central to a dispute between the proprietor of the Poker Palace in Portsmouth and a prosecutor who in 2010 shut down his charitable Texas Hold ‘Em Tournaments.
Poker host Charles P. Daniels, who previously operated a charitable bingo hall in the city for 32 years, contended that the outcome of the card game is determined by skill, not luck, and therefore is not illegal in Virginia. He took the matter to court, seeking a ruling that would sanction his tournaments and prevent Commonwealth’s Attorney Earle C. Mobley from following through on a threat to prosecute.
After hearing testimony from math experts and world champion poker player Gregory Raymer, Portsmouth Circuit Judge Thomas S. Shadrick ruled that Virginia’s anti-gambling statute does cover Texas Hold ‘Em because “the outcome of any one hand is uncertain,” making it a game of chance. Daniels appealed.
The state Supreme Court ruled that except in rare circumstances, a court cannot intervene before someone is charged. That means Shadrick didn’t even have authority to consider the issue — thus leaving the “skill or luck” question unanswered.
“Declaratory judgment actions are not ordinarily available to collaterally impede threatened criminal prosecutions,” Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn wrote.
Neither Daniels’ attorney, Thomas C. Goldstein, nor Mobley’s attorney, Mark R. Colombell, immediately returned messages.
Daniels also argued that the state’s anti-gambling law is unconstitutionally vague. The Supreme Court upheld Shadrick’s ruling that the law passes constitutional muster because “it provides fair notice and an individual of ordinary intelligence can discern its meaning.”
The Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, one of the nonprofit groups that benefited from Daniels’ poker tournaments, filed a friend-of-the court brief supporting his position.
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