Editorial: Poker isn’t gambling – and shouldn’t be illegal
In recent weeks, public radio stations, including New Hampshire’s NHPR, have been airing a broadcast of the storytelling program The Moth that includes a segment by Concord native Annie Duke, who was known as Annie Lederer when she was a student at Rundlett Junior High School. Duke, whose parents were teachers, her mother at Concord High, her father at St. Paul’s, is one of the world’s best poker players, as is her brother, Howard Lederer.
For The Moth, Duke recounts the crisis of confidence she faced at the 2004 world series of poker, where, as the only woman at the 10-player table, she overcame her doubts about her skill to win the tournament and its $2 million pot. Duke’s story is worth tracking down online because it’s a good and inspiring yarn. But we bring it up today because of something she said – and its potential to help make honest men and women out of thousands of New Hampshire residents. We’re talking about the friends who get together in parlors, kitchens and man caves to play poker, sometimes for pennies or “funsies,” but also for sums that can make the difference between a week of lunches out or packing a brown bag.
What Duke said was this: “I really don’t enjoy gambling, which I know, because I’m a poker player, sounds kind of crazy. But actually, poker is very different from gambling.”
Last summer, a federal judge in Brooklyn agreed. “At common law, gambling consisted of wagering something of value on the outcome of a game in which chance predominated over skill,” wrote Judge Jack Weinstein, who tossed out the gambling conviction of a man who ran regular poker games in a Staten Island warehouse. The man, Weinstein ruled, could not be convicted of running an illegal gambling operation in a Staten Island warehouse because poker wasn’t gambling. It was more a game of skill than chance. Weinstein refuted the government’s contention that poker was akin to illegal sports betting pools.
“While a gambler with an encyclopedic knowledge of sports may perform better than others when wagering on the outcome of sporting events, unlike in poker, his skill does not influence game play,” Weinstein wrote. “Expert poker players draw on an array of talents, including facility with numbers, knowledge of human psychology, and powers of observation and deception. Players can use these skills to win even if chance has not dealt them the better hand.”
We agree, which is why we encourage New Hampshire lawmakers to support HB 459, Hillsboro Rep. George Lambert’s bill legalizing home poker games. It does harm rather than good to have a law on the books that isn’t enforced – indeed, in this case a law most police officers would find humiliating to enforce. The Legislature should legalize home poker games, which unlike casino gambling and slot machines, don’t make addicts of players, don’t take money out of the state’s economy and, like book groups or sewing circles, build social capital by giving friends a reason to come together. Pass Lambert’s bill and deal us in.