Virginia Supreme Court Doesn’t Opine on Poker as a Game of Skill

In a move that will undoubtedly disappoint many fans of poker in the state of Virginia, the Supreme Court in that state last week refused to express an opinion as to whether poker constitutes a game of skill.

Unquestionably this will be taken by some pro-poker factions as a defeat, indicating that the mood of the state is not hospitable to the game, and therefore legalization of land-based poker games as well as Internet-based poker games is probably not coming to Virginia anytime soon.

So, here’s what happened. Back in 2010, the attorney for the Commonwealth of Portsmouth, Virginia, Earle Mobley, decided to begin enforcing the illegal gambling law, and as a result shut down a number of gambling halls in the area, including those belonging to Charles Daniels, who hosted poker games that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to be donated to charity.

Daniels sued, and despite bringing in widely-known poker pro Greg Raymer, who himself is a WSOP bracelet winner, to offer testimony as to the many aspects of playing poker that involve great skill and strategy, Daniels lost his case in circuit court. He then appealed to Virginia’s Supreme Court, arguing that Virginia gambling law is vague.

There are some funny quirks of the language of the law including permitting “any contest of speed or skill between men, animals, fowl or vehicles” which would allow “participants [to] receive prizes or different percentages of a purse, stake or premium.”

In his written judgement, however, Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn shot down Daniels’ claim that the law’s vagueness meant that his poker rooms were operating legally, writing that “the law allows for skill to be considered in determining whether the gambling law has been violated” but is not vague, meaning that Daniels won’t be re-opening his poker halls anytime soon.

Fans of poker who just happen to live in Virginia needn’t despair, however. Home poker games are still legal in Virginia, this according to Steve Emmert, who is not only an appeals lawyer but also is himself a poker player. By not offering an opinion one way or the other, Emmert says, the Virginia Supreme Court “has left the door open” to possible future challenges of the illegal gambling law.

If its state motto is to be believed, Virginia is supposedly for lovers. But is it for lovers of poker? Maybe not so much. Meanwhile, Virginia residents who want to play poker and engage in other forms of gambling don’t have too far to travel.

With the proliferation of casinos up and down the Eastern Seaboard, Virginians can travel to places like Pennsylvania and Maryland to get their gambling fixes. Soon they will even be able to place wagers online so long as they are willing to drive over to Delaware in order to do so, where a bill was passed last year that will allow that state’s residents to gamble over the Internet.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on,, and

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