At long last, South Carolina's antiquated gambling laws are being challenged in court. Last year, some friends of Up For Poker were playing a friendly tournament in a neighborhood clubhouse when they were raided by a suburban swat team that didn't have any drug dealers to bust that day. Under 1802 South Carolina law, the guys could've been playing Monopoly and been charged with the same crime.
Now, a local attorney has taken up the case of five of the players and is currently appealing to the good senses of a local magistrate judge to take a hard look at the law and question how it can be that playing Euchre on a table in my local watering hole can be illegal.
The local players, one of whom likes to play big pots with AQ on an AK8 board, were charged with violating this part of the South Carolina gambling law:
SECTION 16-19-40. Unlawful games and betting.
If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars, and every person so keeping such tavern, inn, retail store, public place, or house used as a place for gaming or such other house shall, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offense.
While you try to soak up the intricacies of the law (and start your Google search for whist), wrap your head around this section of the same law (my emphasis added).
SECTION 16-19-70. Keeping gaming tables open or playing games on the Sabbath.
Whoever shall keep or suffer to be kept any gaming table or permit any game or games to be played in his house on the Sabbath day, on conviction thereof before any court having jurisdiction, shall be fined in the sum of fifty dollars, to be sued for on behalf of, and to be recovered for the use of, the State.
Seriously, under a strict reading of this law, I can't play football with my kid during the Chiefs game this Sunday without fear of being fined. Reasonable people would say, "Well, the cops aren't going to waste their time busting you for a game of Pinochle." I'd say, "The cops have a lot of time to waste, apparently. Several of them were caught playing poker on shift a few months back." (Note: If you read that article, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The game was poker.)
So, the current case is the one that has appeared in CardPlayer several times in the last year or so. It's a case that pretty much defines the silliness surrounding the Raging Assault on Poker's Emergence.
Based on what I know about the current case and the judge, I'd say there is a 35% chance the judge, Hank Mims, will take any sort of stand here. Hank is a reasonable guy and a little on the eccentric side, but probably doesn't want to get involved in the fight. That will likely mean the poker players will have to stand trial. This will not be the kind of thing you see on Court TV. It will be held in a small courtroom in Greer, SC and likely last for just a couple of hours.
The real action, if there need be any, will happen when the verdict comes in. Guilty or Not Guilty, this case will be headed for an appeals court faster than the Greer Swat Team can storm suburban clubhouse. It will be in that appeals court where the law and the people who support it will face the most important scrutiny. Simply put, no person who considers himself reasonable can read the South Carolina gambling statute and with a straight face declare it constitutional.
Perhaps my favorite passage from the entire hearing:
"As avid poker players, they knew Texas Hold 'Em was gambling, the records say. One of them had a license plate that reads, "THENUTZ," a poker term for the best possible hand, the prosecutors filing says."
Where's the wit of Wicked Chops Poker when you need it?