Friday, April 4, 2008

Poker Buddies, Wink Wink

originally published in the Hartford Advocate and Fairfield County Weekly, August 14, 2007

Poker Buddies, Wink Wink

It's illegal to play poker for money, unless you're on tribal land or among "friends"

By Jennifer Abel

Here’s a riddle: how is playing cards like having sex? Answer: it’s legal for two (or more) consenting adults to do it together so long as nobody gains financially. But the second capitalism gets involved, then you are (according to the government) an officially Bad Person who deserves to go to jail.

Poker’s pretty popular these days, both in person and online, so the Division of Special Revenue is reminding everybody not to play for money. Paul Young, the division’s executive director, said in a press release last month that Connecticut law makes gambling illegal in most instances.

“Poker is clearly a prohibited form of gambling and soliciting others to partake in a form of prohibited gambling is a violation of the State’s criminal statutes,” Young wrote. “We also have the Tribal agreements to consider.”

These tribal agreements boil down to: it’s legal for the state’s Indian tribes to make money from poker games, and illegal for everybody else.

That sounds straightforward, if unfair. But here’s a confusing wrinkle: playing poker for money is illegal outside of an Indian casino, unless it’s done among friends.

They say a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. How long does it take for a stranger to acquire legal friend status for poker-playing purposes in Connecticut? Richard Blumenthal, the state attorney general, is the guy ultimately responsible for prosecuting and penalizing those who violate the poker laws. He told the Advocate, “The rule has always been: gambling is prohibited in state, but social games are permitted. Permissible forms include people who know each other, with a social connection.”

However, social connections made via the Internet don’t seem to apply. As Paul Young said, “The opportunity to wager over the Internet on a variety of activities, including casino games, is very attractive to many people; however, such activity is illegal in Connecticut.” But why should the law distinguish between social activities that take place online versus in meat-space?

“It’s an illegal activity,” Young explained. Before anybody can play Internet poker without going to jail, “there has to be a law on the books permitting it.” And there isn’t. So the Advocate asked: where card games are concerned, would it be accurate to say that which is not allowed is prohibited?

“It is prohibited,” Young agreed.

Unless it’s among friends. So how long does it take for two strangers to legally qualify?

“We haven’t really traveled down that road … I think it’s something the courts would have to work on,” Young said.

The Advocate also wondered if sexual activity could form the foundation of a legal friendship. If you meet a stranger at six o’clock and have sex with him at six-fifteen, can you legally play poker in the afterglow?

There’s really no polite way to ask a government official such a question, so you really can’t blame the director of Connecticut’s Division of Special Revenue for adopting a rather frosty tone of voice when he answered, “I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

Sincere advice: it’s not worth having sex with somebody just so you can play poker later. Instead, go to a teenage jewelry store like Claire’s or The Icing, where you and your poker buddy can buy matching necklaces declaring yourselves “B.F.F.” (Best Friends Forever). This jewelry will turn your skin green if you wear it too long, but green skin beats the heck out of a jail sentence.