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Idaho Tribe Claims Poker is a Skill Game

A tribe in Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene, asserts that the state can’t sue it for offering Texas hold 'em poker because it is a game of skill.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho has responded to a lawsuit by the state of Idaho that the game of poker is a skill game comparable to the game of golf.

The tribe last week submitted documents in federal court that argue, in part, “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.”

The state sued the tribe on May 2 to force it to close a poker room that it opened in Worley. The state points out that poker is illegal in Idaho, however the tribe argues that the type of poker it offers, Texas hold ’em, qualifies as Class II gaming, and thus immune from state law. It claims that the game is played throughout the state.

The federal court is expected to rule on June 3.

Federal law allows tribes to offer any gaming that is allowed in a state.

The tribe’s brief declares, “As long as the state permits a single person, organization or entity to operate a game at any location in the state, whether for charity purposes or otherwise, the tribe is entitled to operate such games in its gaming facility.” It contends that the state allows poker at charity gaming events, and even offers a lottery “poker,” game.

A state judge recently dismissed charges against  two men accused of illegal gambling for playing Texas hold ’em. The magistrate declared that state law is unclear about the status of the game. The attorney who represented the two men, Michael Bartlett, employed as expert witnesses persons who testified that Texas hold ’em  is a game of skill comparable to pool, fishing tournaments, bowling tournaments, and, yes, golf.

The tribe’s attorneys argue that the great majority of Texas hold ’em winners are decided by the players’ betting strategy, and only infrequently does the best hand determine the winner.