When we are seated around the kitchen table, playing a game of poker, the legality of the sport is unlikely to cross our minds.

Although our small get-togethers are certainly not enough to warrant a crackdown by federal authorities, the 1955 Illegal Gambling Business Act gives the government the right to prosecute gambling in some circumstances. Online poker organizations have been the biggest culprits: Three of the largest poker websites — Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker — were shut down last year.

The case making the most noise this year was that of Lawrence Dicristina, a New York electronics dealer whose warehouse was raided after authorities suspected he was operating an illegal poker ring.

After hearing testimony from several statisticians and poker players, Judge Jack Weinstein concluded that poker is a game of skill, ruling in favor of the defendant and rendering the card game exempt from gambling laws.

Legally speaking, gambling is a game “predominated by chance,” and while chance does play a role in poker, skill plays an even bigger role — and that makes all the difference. Some players get lucky sometimes, but no player can be lucky all the time. Professional poker players don’t make a living off luck: that’s just not possible. Have you ever heard of a professional roulette player? Or someone who is really good at playing slots? There is a reason the same players end up at the final tables of the World Series of Poker year after year: They are consistently better at the game than the rest of us.

Poker is not a fool’s game. Fools trust their luck too much; they arrive overconfident and usually go home with empty pockets. We have all fallen into this trap, blaming our losses on “bad luck.” Chance is always there, but sometimes we give it too much credit.

Skill versus chance — it’s funny how semantics can carry so much weight.

Weinstein’s ruling sets a legal precedent that can spark the resurgence of online poker play, which raked in over $20 billion at its peak in 2010. Add that to the millions wagered annually at small casino tables and big televised tournaments, and you’ve got a giant pot of revenue that eclipses some of America’s largest professional sports.

But the question is not whether poker is skill or luck, or even whether poker constitutes gambling.

The real question is why gambling has such a bad name in the first place. How does the predominance of “chance” make a game worthy of social disrepute?
The truth is that it doesn’t.

Sure, people playing poker stand to lose a lot of money. But that does not mean it’s a “bad” game and certainly isn’t a justification for banning it. The risk makes it more exciting.

Risk is engrained in our society, and you can see it in every sport we play, poker included.

It makes us sweat, cry, scream and go crazy. It gives us an adrenaline rush. And we are not just risking an interception or a few “points.” We’re putting real money on the line. Real dollars — you know, the stuff that we spend hours working for, the stuff that pays for life. A poker hand feels so real, so significant.

Poker is full of risk, as is every sport we play. So why should it be treated any differently? If people like it, let them do it. They can pay for the consequences. Literally.

Nick Fedyk is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. MORE THAN A GAME appears every Tuesday.

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