May 24, 2011

Poker Peeping Toms—Angle Shooters or Felons?

Yesterday, I was reading Iowa gaming statutes and regulations for an upcoming post (yes, it's a task as thrilling as it sounds). I noticed two interesting provisions related to banned gaming-related activities:

4.  A person commits a class "D" felony and, in addition, shall be barred for life from excursion gambling boats and gambling structures under the jurisdiction of the commission, if the person does any of the following:
....
h.  Places a bet after acquiring knowledge, not available to all players, of the outcome of the gambling game which is the subject of the bet or to aid the person in acquiring the knowledge for the purpose of placing a bet contingent on that outcome.
....
j.  Knowingly entices or induces a person to go to any place where a gambling game is being conducted or operated in violation of the provisions of this chapter with the intent that the other person plays or participates in that gambling game.

Iowa Code sec. 99F.15

Let's look at subsection h first. The obvious intent of this subsection is to prevent players from betting on games where the fix is in, or where a player has an unfair advantage in predicting the outcome of the game. But let's think about poker. Imagine a card is flashed during the deal but not replaced, or you see the bottom cut card or a flop card that other players do not see, or you see the cards another player is holding. Under a strict reading of subsection h, this knowledge gives you an unfair advantage over other players in the hand, and if you bet based on that knowledge, you are arguably committing a felony. Now, I'm not aware of any casino poker rooms enforcing this rule this strictly, but one has to wonder if or when an angle shot might become a felony.

Now let's look at subsection j. Despite the availability of casino poker rooms, there are still plenty of home poker games being spread in Iowa. I've been invited to quite a number of them, and it's possible I've invited people to play in games I may have hosted. Home games are illegal under Iowa law if any player puts more than $50 at risk. So, if someone merely invites me to a home game where the buy-in is over $50, are they committing a felony?

I don't have any quick answers to these questions. I just found these statutes to be interesting examples of the rather broad and elaborate statutory mechanisms which some states have enacted to prohibit non-licensed gambling. What do you think?



2 comments:

  1. Places a bet after acquiring knowledge, not available to all players, of the outcome of the gambling game which is the subject of the bet or to aid the person in acquiring the knowledge for the purpose of placing a bet contingent on that outcome.

    That seems a description of a pre-flop poker hand in that eye doting land of the law. Seems the only way around it is to make the down card up to avoid anyone having information not available to all involved.

    OK, done doing my stretching... :)

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  2. Wow. I'd never read that statute before. Not sure I've seen a more horribly written statute. The bad thing is I don't think it is vague, I think it is wickedly specific in its wrongness.

    For one thing, it appears it is an aggravated misdemeanor under 99F.15(1)(a) to "operate" an illegal gambling "excursion," but (as you pointed out) it is a felony to "induce" or "entice" (i.e. invite) somebody to the gambling "excursion." Priorities? Under this statute a participant that brings a buddy gets a felony while the operator of the game gets a misdemeanor.

    And yes, as this is written it is technically a felony not to fold pre-flop if the guy/gal next to you sucks at protecting his/her hand and you see the hole cards. As you point out, this section is clearly intended to punish those who knew a horse race was fixed and went along for the ride. As written, however, the unintended consequences in the hands of the wrong county attorney could be drastic for a lot of poker players.

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