Pennsylvania faces Poker Law Dispute

The police started something complicated when they raided a poker tournament in a local fire hall.

In Greenburg Pennsylvania, a lawyer is being forced to turn the hand of the police in the effort to recover more than 11 thousand dollars and additional physical property confiscated after state police raided his poker tournament. The Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament was operated at a local fire hall.

In the court documents filed Thursday, state police are investigating Lawrence (Larry) Burns, a defense attorney, for organizing and running poker events throughout Westmoreland County since April as a violation of state gambling laws. Law enforcement authorities contend poker tournaments that are advertised, held for profit and not for the benefit of a charitable organization, prove illegal. However, charges have yet to be filed against Burns, who is standing his ground regarding his poker tournaments, stating they are not illegal.

Lawrence Burns confirmed that he operated card games, but not in violation to state law. It is his stance that face-to-face poker tournaments are not illegal in Pennsylvania due to the fact they qualify as a game of skill, instead of a game of chance.

Through his attorney, David Millstein, Burns filed court documents looking for a return of more than $11,000 in cash and other property that state police confiscated during the search of his Latrobe home and office, as well as from a tournament raided by state police at the Seward Volunteer Fire Hall on Aug. 3. The search warrants for those items are sealed to the public. According to Burns’ court filing, the items seized included hundreds of poker chips and additional card-playing paraphernalia, advertising signs, documents along with cash. Police are additionally seeking the names of the players who participated in the Seward tournament.

The court records disclose that the police are investigating Burns for violating the state gambling statute, a misdemeanor, that prohibits “any person to collect and assemble for the purpose of unlawful gambling at any place under his control; solicit or invite any person to visit any unlawful gambling place for the purpose of gambling; or being the owner, tenant, lessee or occupant of any premises or knowingly permits a location to be used for the purpose of unlawful gambling.” Poker or other specific forms of gambling are not defined in the statute.

Through Millstein, Burns has not denied that he earned a profit from the tournaments but contends poker is not gambling under Pennsylvania law. “All of the cases about poker have to do with machines, where the outcome is decided by chance. When you play in person, it’s a game of skill. The courts will have to determine whether face-to-face poker is unlawful gaming. They’ll have to rule it’s a game of chance,” Millstein discussed with the press.

The State Authorities involved stated that poker is gambling and, consequently, someone who earns a profit by means of running a tournament and taking a cut of the money bet, advertises the game and involve participants that pay to play, violates state law.

“Texas Hold’em is gambling,” said Trooper Linette Quinn, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Police in Harrisburg. The issue with that statement is that prosecutors all over the state have diverse opinions of poker, according to Kevin Harley, spokesman for state Attorney General Tom Corbett. Harley said police typically don’t investigate friendly poker games or other types of small-time gambling, such as fantasy football or NCAA basketball tournament brackets. “They usually investigate when there is a significant amount of money exchanged or if the house is keeping a cut of the profits for themselves, not for a charity,” Harley said during a press conferance. “But there’s not a lot of uniformity among prosecutors.”

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