Politics & Government

McMaster attacks judge's poker ruling in high court filing

Attorney General Henry McMaster's office says a judge erred when he ruled the poker game Texas Hold 'em is a game of skill in tossing out charges against five local players.

In an appeal this week, the office says Circuit Judge Markley Dennis went too far when he overturned the gambling convictions of five Mount Pleasant card players this fall.

"One obvious reason that 'chance' need not be determined with respect to a particular game for purpose of the gambling statute, is that the Legislature sought to ban all 'gaming' for stakes at designated locations," the filing said.

"In other words, in the General Assembly's view, the ills resulting from games played for money does not depend upon the particular game or the nature in which it was played."

The statements were part of a 57-page filing sent to the state Supreme Court. Because the case addresses a constitutional matter covering gambling, the state's appeal went directly to the high court, skipping the S.C. Court of Appeals.

In September, Dennis threw out the convictions of five poker players busted by Mount Pleasant police, saying playing Hold 'em in a private residence does not violate the state's anti-gambling laws.

The evidence showed the outcome of the players' chosen game was determined more by "the relative skill of the player" than anything else, he said.

He also questioned several points about the state's anti-gambling laws, calling some "unconstitutionally vague and overbroad," while challenging what constitutes "a house of gaming" under state law.

The state's filing this week said Dennis took part in "a parade of horribles" in making his decision, saying that just because a law is old, doesn't make its legal intent unclear.

A judge should not step into the shoes of lawmakers "by adding terms such as 'chance' or 'skill' when the Legislature has made clear that 'any game with cards or dice' when played for money or other consideration is forbidden," the attorney general's filing says.

McMaster is a Republican candidate for governor.

The case dates to April 2006 when Mount Pleasant police raided a private home on Glencoe Street. About two dozen people were cited after authorities discovered two Texas Hold 'em tables operating. Authorities said the game was a for-profit gambling operation and a nuisance.

About 20 players opted not to fight the charges, pleading guilty. The others chose to confront the charges in court, eventually being convicted of gambling in front of Municipal Court Judge Larry Duffy.

No timetable has been set on when the case will be heard, and more rounds of legal filings are expected. The Legislature is expected to take up a bill legalizing social card games next year.