Is It a Federal Crime to Host a Poker Game? SCOTUS May Soon Decide

Is it a federal crime to host a poker game? The U.S. Supreme
Court may soon weigh in on the answer. At their private conference
this Friday, the justices will consider a
for review filed by a New York man facing up to five
years in prison for hosting poker games in the back of his bicycle

At issue in DiCristina v. United States is the reach of
the Illegal Gambling Business Act, a federal law enacted as part of
the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, which lays out federal
penalties for anyone who “conducts, finances, manages, supervises,
directs, or owns all or part of an illegal gambling business.”
According to the Justice Department, small business owner Lawrence
DiCristina violated that law by running games of “No Limit Texas
Hold ‘Em” where DiCristina charged players a fee of five percent of
each hand’s pot.

DiCristina counters the government’s position by arguing that
because poker is a game of skill, and not a game of chance, it does
not count as a form of gambling, and therefore the federal statute
should not apply to his activities. “Using this anti-Mafia statute,
federal prosecutors have targeted low-profile poker games with no
connection to organized crime,” DiCristina told the Court in his
petition. And because of that federal overreach, the petition
continues, “DiCristina, a small business owner with no prior
criminal record, now is a federal felon because he hosted poker
games for money in his bicycle shop.”

Unsurprisingly, the case has caught the attention of
professional poker players. In a friend of the court brief
submitted on DiCristina’s behalf, a group of professional and
amateur players, including Poker Hall of Fame member Michael Sexton
and 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event winner Gregory Raymer,
urges the Supreme Court to side with DiCristina. “Poker is similar
to golf, bridge, Scrabble, and numerous other games of skill where
players put up a monetary stake, compete against each other, and
reward the winning player,” the brief states. “Unlike poker,
competitions involving these games have never been branded federal

The Supreme Court could announce as early as next week whether
or not it will hear the case.

from Hit & Run

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