The U.S. Supreme Court will not disturb the criminal conviction of a New York man whose underground poker game ran afoul of a federal anti-gambling law.
The justices on Monday rejected an appeal from Lawrence DiCristina, who said his twice-a-week games of Texas Hold ‘em in his Staten Island bicycle shop should not be covered by the federal Illegal Gambling Businesses Act. DiCristina argued the law targets games of chance, like lotteries, slot machines and dice, but not poker, which is a game of skill.
Eastern District Judge Jack Weinstein (See Profile) had reversed the trial conviction of DiCristina, finding it was unclear whether Congress intended to include poker within the federal act. Weinstein also said poker is predominantly a game of skill, not chance, and doesn’t constitute gambling under federal law even though it is unquestionably gambling under New York Penal Law §225.00 (NYLJ, Aug. 22, 2012).
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed Weinstein, reinstated the conviction and returned the matter to the trial court for sentencing. With the circuit ruling, DiCristina stood convicted of one count of violating the IGBA and one count of conspiracy. In a decision by Judge Chester Straub joined by judges Peter Hall and Denny Chin, the circuit said the IGBA is not limited to games of chance and clearly covers the activities conducted by the defendant.
Bridge and Scrabble players weighed in on DiCristina’s behalf, worrying they could be targeted under the circuit’s expansive interpretation of the law. At least three Supreme Court justices, Elena Kagan, Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor, like to play poker.