U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear poker case

WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to weigh whether poker is a contest of skill or luck, meaning people can still be prosecuted under federal law for organizing games.

The court said it would not hear an appeal filed by Lawrence DiCristina, who was convicted under the law, the Illegal Gambling Business Act, for running games of “Texas Hold ‘Em” at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, which he publicized by text message and word of mouth.

Poker advocates say the government has stacked the deck by using a law aimed at targeting organized crime to punish people organizing small-stakes games. They point out poker should not be covered by the law in part because it is a game of skill rather than a game of chance. In the law, the definition of gambling mentions only games of chance, DiCristina’s supporters say.

In August, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed a district court decision from 2012 that said DiCristina could not be prosecuted because “Texas Hold ‘Em” was a game of skill. The appeals court accepted that poker is a game of skill but said DiCristina could still be prosecuted.

The law was enacted in 1970 to combat organized crime. The law makes it illegal to run a gambling business that violates a state’s laws and either earns more than $2,000 a day or remains in operation for more than 30 days.

In his August 2012 ruling, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn said the statute was ambiguous as to what gambling it covered and that “Texas Hold ‘Em” - as a game of skill - was not covered by the anti-gambling law.

DiCristina faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The case is DiCristina v. United States, 13-564. (Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Grant McCool)