By the way he was jumping up and down and screaming outside of his house, Bob Chimento’s neighbor thought he had stepped on a nail. But, in reality, Chimento was just letting out his emotions after a three-and-a-half-year legal battle finally gave him the result he was fighting for.

“I couldn’t stop hooting and hollering,” said Chimento, who was one of five poker players arrested for participating in an illegal house of gaming in South Carolina in April 2006 and convicted after a municipal judge found the players guilty in February of this year. That conviction was overturned in a circuit court this week.

“It’s such a surreal feeling that we won this thing. What makes me really happy about it is now we’re going to be able to play Texas hold’em in our state without the fear of repercussions,” said Chimento. “This brings poker into the 21st century in our state.”

In a one-page letter, Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis, Jr. wrote that it was clear to him that poker was “a game of skill,” as opposed to “a game of chance,” and therefore did not constitute gambling under South Carolina law.

“When faced with the issue, it is my opinion that the S.C. Supreme Court will likely adopt the ‘dominate factor test,’” Dennis wrote to the attorneys involved in the case, according to the Charleston Post & Courier. “Under the dominate factor test, Texas hold’em is not gaming or gambling."

The judge also wrote that the law in which the men were convicted, a statute originally written in 1802, was “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.” The law on the books, 16-19-40, bans “any game with cards or dice.” Enforced literally, South Carolina residents wouldn’t be able to legally play a game of Monopoly.

That’s why Dennis said the municipal court decision, which found the players guilty, “must be reversed.” The judge is expected to release an official opinion sometime this week.

Municipal Judge J. Lawrence Duffy ruled in February that the men were guilty of playing in a “house of gaming,” but stated that based on the evidence presented at the trial, he believed poker to be a game of skill. In his opinion, he expressed difficulty in knowing exactly how to interpret the 1802 law, setting up the poker players’ appeal to the circuit court.

In that case, the Poker Players Alliance brought in Poker Hall of Fame nominee Mike Sexton and statistics professor Robert Hannum to present evidence that poker is a game of skill.

Chimento was one of nearly two dozen poker players who were arrested in 2006 after authorities conducted a raid on a home poker game. The players were participating in a $20 Texas hold’em tournament.

While the majority of players pleaded guilty to illegal gambling and paid a fine ranging from $154 to $257, five men refused to admit wrongdoing. Scott Richards, Michael Williamson, Jeremy Brestel, John Taylor Will, and Chimento fought their conviction in the courts, and finally got the result they were looking for this week.

“For three and a half years, we knew that we could win this because the law was basically so ludicrous, so outdated,” said Chimento.

While the decision marks a positive outcome for the defendants, it would be premature for them to celebrate. Mount Pleasant prosecutor Ira Grossman has all but guaranteed that the government would appeal the ruling.

“Everyone involved in this case assumed that it would reach the highest courts in the state,” Grossman told the Post & Courier. “I would say that an appeal is likely.”

An appeal would likely go to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, although the South Carolina Supreme Court could decide to take up the case before the Court of Appeals hears it since the case deals with a state constitutional issue.
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