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Businessman Gambles On Court To Bring Poker To Durham

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DURHAM, N.C. — Is poker a game of chance or test of skill? That question is now in front of the state Court of Appeals as a Durham businessman continues his quest to open a poker parlor.

Poker is legal in at least 30 states. But in North Carolina, it's illegal to play a game of chance when betting is involved. Last year, a Durham judge ruled that poker falls in that category. However, Howard Fierman disagrees.

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    "If I'm going to play a game with a bunch of experts, I'm going to lose. It's not because they are luckier than I am, it's because they are better than I am," said Fierman's attorney, Whit Powell.

    Professional players tend to agree with Powell and disagree with the initial ruling. Area poker player George Smart is playing at a tourney in Connecticut. He's also editor of the Triangle Poker Journal.

    "While there is one element of chance with what cards are dealt, the way a player handles those cards, handles the bet, the amount of the bet and how they assess the other players and the table is entirely skill," said Smart.

    The state says they are bluffing and is calling them.

    "One hundred fifty-eight years of North Carolina law says poker is a game of chance," said Assistant Attorney General David Adinolfi.

    In this hand, Powell doesn't believe the outcome will depend on the turn of the cards.

    "I don't think it's true if you stay in the hand, the best hand wins," he said.

    The three judges who are hearing the appeal could take months to issue a ruling, and that might not be the end of the game. The case could end up in the State Supreme Court.

    Poker is big business, even in the Triangle. The top three tournament players in the area make a living at it.

    Raleigh's Greg Raymer was the World Series of Poker championship in 2004 and has earned nearly $6 million so far. Mike Gracz of Raleigh has won $2.6 million.


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