Chance or skill? suit asks


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Oct 15, 2004
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Chance or skill? suit asks
Poker club owners put issue to courts


DURHAM -- A Durham business, arguing that poker is about more than the luck of the draw, wants a judge to exempt the game from the state's anti-gambling law so the business can open a poker parlor.
Attorneys for The Joker Club have sued Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin, challenging his stance on the legality of a poker club where players would bet cash against one another. The house would take a cut from each pot.

Hardin told the company in a letter that the club would be illegal. The lawsuit, filed Nov. 15, asks a judge to rule that poker is not a game of chance.

"North Carolina law makes betting on games of chance illegal," said Durham lawyer Marcus Hill, who is representing the company. "Poker is a game of skill."

Hill declined to comment further on the case.

Hardin said state law is pretty clear. At least one court decision, he said, defines poker as a game of chance.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's gambling under North Carolina law," Hardin said. "This is a commercial enterprise, and from all reports ... they would attempt to do this notoriously and out in the open and gain commercially from it."

The lawsuit says little about the owners of The Joker Club. Hill declined to say anything about them. The company's lease for its proposed poker parlor, which would be at 2306 Ferrell Road, is signed by Howard Fierman. Fierman could not be reached Monday.

Casino gambling is legal on the Cherokee reservation in the southwest corner of the state. Video poker machines in North Carolina are limited to awarding coupons worth no more than $10. Statewide, playing or operating a game of chance where money, property or other things of value are wagered is a misdemeanor. Bingo and raffles for charity are excepted.

At least 13 other states, which do not necessarily allow casino gambling, allow poker parlors, according to a gaming industry trade publication.

Hardin has asked the state Attorney General's Office to represent him in the case. He said it is the first time he can remember that he has been sued over his interpretation of state law.

In the last few years, poker has seen a nationwide boom, with high-stakes tournaments regularly shown on television and a host of online poker sites where amateur card sharks can play for fun or for real cash. One such site,, has 1 million registered users, said Dan Goldman, its vice president for marketing.

Harrah's Cherokee Casino and Hotel plans to open a new poker room with 24 tables early next year, according to the casino's Web site.

Not that players need to log on or travel to a casino to play. It's no secret that people have standing poker games in their homes. It's just that those games are illegal, technically speaking.

"If a complaint were filed with, say, the Durham City Police Department or Durham Sheriff's Department and they went to a location and found folks playing cards for money, they would be subject to arrest under our law," Hardin said. "Now what's the probability of that happening?"

Poker's popularity has many reasons, Goldman said, but an important one is that anyone can beat the top players, if they know what they're doing.

The lesson was illustrated when a Tennessee man named Chris Moneymaker, a nobody in the world of high-stakes poker, won a seat at the 2003 World Series of Poker through He won the tournament, and $2.5 million, using knowledge of the game he says he learned exclusively from home games or online play.

"There is no question but that poker is a game of skill," Goldman said. "The best evidence? People can't become professional players at a game that is entirely chance. For example, you don't have anybody who's a professional craps player."

Arnie Wexler, a nationally known compulsive gambling counselor, said the poker wave will soon lead to an upsurge in attendance at Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Many of the new attendees will be under 25 and will have a problem with poker, he said.

"If poker was a game of skill, then the best poker player would win every time and every year," he said. "It's not a game of skill. It's a game of chance. You sit there."
For those of interest in the southeast US Harrahs at Cherokee NC is in the process of building a poker room set to open in January. Although they have no table games that use cards (all games are video) there will be real cards in the poker for a variety of games. It is my understanding Cherokee feels this falls under their bingo classification and is OK under their gaming pact.

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