In an opinion issued this past Friday, Judge B. Lynn Winmill, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Idaho, ruled Texas Hold ‘em poker is explicitly prohibited under Idaho law and is a Class III game under IGRA.
The issue was presented in a motion by the State of Idaho for a temporary restraining order against the Coeur D’Alene Tribe (and a motion to dismiss by the Tribe) to prevent the Tribe from conducting Texas Hold ‘em poker tournaments at the Coeur d’Alene Casino – which operates pursuant to a tribal compact with the State of Idaho.
The Tribe argued, in part, that Texas Hold ‘em was not prohibited because it is a game of skill rather than a game of chance. As noted in the opinion, the Tribe conceded “that chance plays a role in Texas Hold ‘em.” The Court agreed stating “[a]fter all, when a poker player is dealt a hand, chance determines how good or bad that hand will be. There is no skill involved in that part of the game – ever.” Quoting a North Carolina opinion, the Court noted “[n]o amount of skill can change a deuce into an ace.”
The Tribe, further, argued that skill was the predominate factor in Texas Hold ‘em poker, thus not prohibited under Idaho law. The Court chose not to address this issue, stating the definition of “gambling” under Idaho law only requires some chance be present. Under Idaho law, “gambling” is defined as “risking any money, credit, deposit or other thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event, the operation of casino gambling including, but not limited to, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, bacarrat [baccarat] or keno…” Idaho Code § 18-3801. Under the Idaho constitution, gambling is prohibited unless specifically exempted – three exemptions include (1) a state lottery; (2) pari-mutuel betting; and (3) certain bingo and raffle games. The Court determined “Idaho law does not leave room for [a chance versus skill predominance] inquiry.”
The Court also determined that the State met its burden for a preliminary injunction and enjoined the Tribe from conducting Texas Hold ‘em poker.
The Tribe immediately filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and a motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction pending appeal in District Court. Papers on the motion for a stay pending appeal are expected this week.
The case is State of Idaho v. Coeur D’Alene Tribe, 2:14-cv-00170-BLW.