COLUMBIA -- South Carolina poker players may not be sure when to fold 'em even after a judge ruled Thursday that Texas Hold 'em is a game of skill.
What Mount Pleasant Municipal Judge Larry Duffy didn't decide is whether that determination matters under an 1802 South Carolina law that, read literally, makes any game with cards or dice -- including popular board games such as Monopoly and Sorry -- illegal.
State Attorney General Henry McMaster says his office has adopted a looser interpretation that only considers games more reliant on chance than on a player's skill -- including Texas Hold 'em, a popular type of poker -- to be gambling and therefore illegal. Dozens of other states have similar laws.
Though Duffy said evidence was "overwhelming" that poker was a game of skill, he said he did not have enough guidance from higher courts or state lawmakers to know if that analysis makes a difference under South Carolina law.
McMaster's office called Thursday's ruling insignificant, but if it is appealed, the South Carolina Supreme Court may eventually have to decide if Texas Hold 'em is legal in the state. Locally, the ruling could keep police from arresting people involved in friendly house games.
The case stemmed from a 2006 raid on a poker game that organizers said was played casually among friends but prosecutors characterized as a for-profit gambling operation.
"It's becoming quite clear the legal community agrees that this great American pastime is a game of predominant skill, not luck, and should not be considered gambling under the law," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance. An estimated 55 million Americans play some form of poker, and the Washington, D.C.-based alliance has been closely watching the case.
But Duffy's ruling doesn't help five of the 20 people arrested in the raid who didn't pay fines to settle their cases. In a separate part of the ruling, he found them guilty of operating a gambling house -- something their attorney says also isn't clearly defined under state law.