A judge in Wisconsin has upheld the state’s ban on poker play outside of Indian casinos. The case was brought by professional poker player Mark Kroon and the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) state director, Steve Verrett. The suit asked the court to decide whether the game of poker was one of skill or luck, with hopes that a ruling would favor the game as more skill-based, paving the way for outright legalization by case law.
According to Casino.org, the law banning poker play anywhere other than tribal casinos is not aggressively enforced against home games in the state, but the impediment prevents organizing larger events like the one’s Kroon tried to establish at his Players Sports Bar & Social Club in Madison.
Lane County judge, Richard Niess, perhaps best known for refusing a Wisconsin State Supreme Court order to hear a case on voter ID law, did not give the petitioners the answer they sought to hear.
Judge Niess softened the blow by saying “I have no doubt poker involves, in the long run more skill than chance,” but ruled based on precedence and case law based on a 1964 criminal conviction, upheld by the state Supreme Court. In State v. Morrissy the high court directly addressed poker tournaments in taverns.
Although the judge was sympathetic, stating, “[What’s] binding in this court [is] whether they’ve considered your arguments [about skill] …or not,” He delivered the final punch with, “It doesn’t appear they did, but the [Morrissy] case is still nonetheless binding on me.”
Although the judge said his hands were tied, he seemed to direct the plaintiffs to seek redress from the state Supreme Court or for a change in law from the legislature.
The pair’s attorney, Stan Davis did not agree with the decision noting that the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit found in 2014 that poker is in fact not a criminal activity in Wisconsin. But in the end the judge relied on case law that he considered directly related to the action.
Local law enforcement agencies continue to turn a blind-eye to homespun games and have no jurisdiction over tribal casinos, but for now Kroon will have no vindication in his arrest for what many consider to be a game of skill, and others steadfastly assert is a gambling game.
The boastful assertion by Phil Helmuth of, “…if it wasn’t for luck, I’d win every hand,” which he later admitted was a bit of ego and bravado meant to intimidate opponents, just like, “I look into people’s souls!” is something that has yet to be quantified in a court room.
As long as lottery interests, tribal lobbies, and legislated “morality” continue to hold sway, it looks like it will take maverick lawmakers with close ties to the PPA to change laws state by state – or a state Supreme Court ruling to put a chink in the armor of those who simply do not want to see “America’s other favorite pastime” gain the respect and social status that some think it richly deserves.