On Tuesday, one of South Carolina’s top prosecutors made the surprising admission that small-scale in-home poker games are not a violation of the state’s law against card and dice games. Speaking before the state’s Supreme Court, Assistant Attorney General Sonny Jones stated that the law in question “does not encompass the Friday night poker game or the penny ante poker game.”
The statement appeared to throw Chief Justice Jean Toal for a loop, prompting her to comment that she was ‘surprised’ by Jones’ concession “that there are some forms of personal card playing in your home, among friends, that involve money, that are not gaming.” Jones attempted to make a distinction between ‘casual’ games and organized games that took in money for the house and thus constituted a ‘house of gaming.’ (Frankly, we were hoping Jones would freeze in the headlights like that Miss South Carolina and ramble on about ‘the Iraq’ and stuff, but hey, there’s always tomorrow.)
The state is appealing a lower court ruling that overturned the convictions of a couple dozen men caught gambling in a home in Charleston in 2006. In that decision, Circuit Court Judge Markley Dennis ruled that Texas Hold ‘Em poker is a game of skill, not chance. The state is not directly challenging that assertion, choosing to advance the ‘house of gaming’ angle because the Charleston organizers had advertised the game online.
The case has shone a light on the derelict state of America’s antiquated gaming laws. In South Carolina’s case, taken literally, the 1802 statute prohibiting gaming would make the playing of dice-based board games like Monopoly illegal. The justices are not expected to issue a ruling for several months, but we eagerly await the next case on the docket, S. Carolina v. Parker Brothers.