Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Poker in Massachusetts...

Disclaimer: While I did my research, I am not a lawyer nor am I well versed in our legal system. These are the answers I've found by calling, reading, and getting headaches deciphering our legal system.

You should consult an attorney, or the helpful folk at the Lottery Commission and Attorney General's office, for further information. I've included my references at the bottom of this post.


Summary

  1. Poker is a game of chance, therefore it is illegal
  2. No court in MA has been called upon to determine if traditional poker (with cards) is a game of chance
  3. Since #2, See #1.
  4. Qualified Non-Profits can run tournaments, legally, due to other rules

Details

I got a note from a friend talking about an upcoming poker tournament his Temple is holding. It turns out that there is a company called Bay State Poker that runs tournaments all over Massachusetts. Now, this should be tossing flags up as I'm the one always saying that Poker is illegal in MA.

It is illegal - sort of.
II. A poker tournament that would otherwise be an illegal lottery in
Massachusetts is legal when operated by a properly licensed qualifying
non-profit organization.

Section 7A of Chapter 271 allows certain qualifying organizations to hold special events, known as bazaars, for fundraising purposes. Bazaars (also referred to as Las Vegas or Casino nights) may include games of chance such as roulette, craps, blackjack, and poker, including Texas Holdem. A qualifying organization which operates a bazaar pursuant to section 7A is not in violation of the section 7 lottery prohibitions so long as the organization and players comply with the requirements described in more detail below.
So, Non-profits can hold these as long as they are properly licensed, and don't run Bingo/Keno type stuff. If they run Bingo, they can't run Poker (I had a chat with the Lottery Commission yesterday - where Poker is illegal). So what's the confusion?
At least one court has ruled that under Massachusetts law, chance predominates over skill in video poker games and, as such, they are illegal lotteries. Massachusetts appellate courts have not been called upon to determine whether traditional forms of poker are considered games of chance rather than skill.
Now, the piece you may be missing is that, under MA law, any game of Chance is illegal to be run (unless run by the state). So, at this point in time, Poker at home is considered a game of chance (not skill).
Assuming that all forms of poker are games of chance, it is illegal to promote, operate or play in a poker tournament if a) players pay an entry fee, bet, or otherwise contribute something of value to play and b) prizes of cash or something else of value are awarded to winning players. The only exception to this prohibition involves fundraising activities by certain non-profit organizations issued lottery permits under section 7A of Chapter 271.
And there it is. The key from above is that since the courts have not ruled on whether traditional forms of poker are games of chance, or not, the default is to assume they are and therefore call them illegal.

References

Massachusetts State Lottery Commission
(781) 849-5555, ext. 527

"Attorney General's Advisory On Poker Tournaments"

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