A federal court has ruled that the Idaho-based Coeur d’Alene tribe must stop operating its Texas Hold’em business as it violates Idaho’s gaming laws. According to Judge Lynn Winmill, poker cannot be exempted from the compact that tribe had signed with the state of Idaho under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because players do require luck to win a game of poker.
The judge declared: “When a poker player is dealt a hand, chance determines how good or bad that hand will be. There is no skill involved in that part of the game—ever.”
The government of Idaho stated: “The legislature and the people of Idaho have made it clear what kind of gambling they will accept. That does not include poker. And no matter how much the tribe insists otherwise, Texas Hold’em is poker.”
The state maintains that poker is illegal in its jurisdiction and that federal laws related to casino businesses operating from tribal reservations cannot be used to make poker legal. The tribe, however, had argued, “As the statute provides, even if the game of poker is prohibited, that prohibition does not apply if the game can be shown to be a ‘contest of skill.’”
Although players do need luck to win a game of poker, it has been established that it is a game of strategy too. The tribe pointed out that Idaho already offers Texas Hold’em in other forms, through its lottery games and charity poker tournaments.
The court ruling could have an impact on California’s Santa Ysabel Tribe, which has already launched a fun-play online poker room and is planning to launch a real money version of it. The tribe argues that the IGRA permits them to offer Class II games on their reservations.
But the major problem is that none of the US states have laws pertaining to online gambling, and it is being argued that existing gambling laws, however vague and outdated, apply to online gambling too. The state first needs to make clear whether the gambling activity takes place at the player’s location or the place where the servers are located. If it turns out that betting takes place in the place where the servers are located, the tribe can argue that the IGRA permits them to offer Class II gaming services on their reservations. If it turns out that the betting takes place at the player’s location, the tribe’s argument will not work out.