Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules Some Poker Machines Are Skill-Based

The state appeals court has ruled that certain poker gambling machines should be considered games of skill, rather than luck. But the ruling isn’t quite what you might think.

The games in question are Jersey Hold ‘Em and Red, White & Blue, and the skill factor has nothing to do with bluffing, counting outs or reading your opponent’s hand.

In October 2010, state troopers seized several gambling machines from American Legion Knowles-Doyle Post 317, claiming that they were illegal. But the owner of the equipment, Martin Caplan, asserted that the modifications he made to the machines had converted them into games of skill.

Some of the tweaks included removing the device’s random number generator and adding a special button which the player could push to make the spinning reels of the game stop.

In 2013, Judge Albert J Cepparulo agreed with Caplan, citing the fact that a “significant modification” was made and that they were “no longer endowed with the randomness of their antecedent electronic poker… games.”

Judge Cepparulo also cited the state’s “predominant factor test,” which states that for a game to be considered gambling, the game must be “predominated” by chance, rather than skill.

Caplan’s machines could, in theory, be manipulated by a player with catlike reflexes. If fast enough, users could stop the game at just the right moment and gain an edge over the bank.

Ruling not unanimous

Judge Eugene B. Strassburger 3d disagreed with the ruling, noting that “the skill required to prevail in the games at issue was nearly impossible for the average or casual player to attain.”

He felt that simply pressing a button wasn’t enough to label a machine a game of skill. “With respect to either one of the machines at issue, the action of pressing a button is not a skill within the meaning of the statute, and chance predominates the outcome.”

Judge Paula Francisco Ott backed the ruling, adding that the machines had a high win rate and players could indeed stop the game due to the consistent nature of the reel’s position at rest.

To plead its case, the prosecution called the owner of a gambling machine consulting firm as an expert witness. The man was of the opinion that the machines should be considered games of chance. In his research, he said, even he wasn’t able to beat the machines over 50% of the time.