In the South Carolina case, which was decided on February 19, a municipal judge convicted five poker players of violating the state's anti-gambling laws during a private Texas hold 'em tournament. But the judge also found that the evidence "is overwhelming" that poker is a game of skill.

The debate, by the way, is not new.

In 1870, Mark Twain wrote a delightful short story titled "Science vs. Luck."

Former Justice of the Peace Harold "Bud" Lee is at war with the state of Arizona.
Victor J. Palagano III
Former Justice of the Peace Harold "Bud" Lee is at war with the state of Arizona.
Christine Korza (left) runs Poker Nation out of a little storefront at 19th Avenue and Greenway Road.
Victor J. Palagano III
Christine Korza (left) runs Poker Nation out of a little storefront at 19th Avenue and Greenway Road.

The premise was a made-up Kentucky court case that considered whether Seven Up (also known as Old Sledge) was a prohibited card game of chance. It was much like the game of Hearts.

Naturally, "experts" testified on the matter, including religious leaders who told the judge on behalf of prosecutors that the game was purely chance.

In the end, the judge said he couldn't make up his mind.

The defense attorney suggested that he impanel a jury of six from each side, those who favored luck and those who favored science (or skill). They would be given candles and cards and sent into a room to have at it.

"After playing all night, with some clergymen coming out to borrow more money, the jury reached their unanimous verdict," Twain wrote.

Old Sledge, they said, was a game of skill.

Expert poker players are known to be able to take money from a table of novices, even without looking at their own cards. The pros will assume they have average hands and work with what they know for sure, which is how their opponents are playing, their body language, facial tics, table talk.

Learning how to win money on a bluff with a bad hand, and knowing when to fold against a surely winning hand takes psychology, attention, and intuition.

But does poker become pure chance after all the players have shown their hands and there still are cards left to draw into the game? Even when one suspects that he or she has "the nuts" — the best hand in a game — it takes skill to lure opponents into continuing to drop money onto the table.

Last month, Las Vegas gaming law attorney Tony Cabot and two colleagues published a terrific article on the subject of skill and chance for the Drake (University) Law Review.

Its title bears repeating: "Alex Rodriguez, a Monkey, and the Game of Scrabble: The Hazards of Using Illogic to Define Legality of Games of Mixed Skill and Chance."

It points out that laws in most states are clear on the obvious differences between, say, risking money at a roulette table and vying for a scholarship in a science competition. One is pure chance, and the other is based on skill

But what of competitions that mix both skill and chance?

Cabot writes that most games have an element of chance — even chess, which starts only after a draw determines which player moves first. He suggests that states and courts should ask whether "player skill" or "uncontrollable chance" most likely determines the winner.

As for the Alex Rodriguez reference in the title, Cabot writes of a mythical duel between pitcher CC Sabathia and the steroid-scandal-tarnished New York Yankees third baseman. The big lefty comes at Rodriguez during an at-bat with a strategic array of three pitches: a fastball, slider, and change-up.

There's nothing random about it.

A-Rod is looking for certain pitches at specific points in the count. If a great hitter like Rodriguez "guesses" right, he's got a much better chance of hitting the ball hard somewhere.

Actually, Rodriguez is lucky enough in real life that he won't have to face Sabathia this season. The two became teammates in the offseason.

Cabot says proving that a game is based on chance is simple: If its payout is consistent over time regardless of the player (hell, the player might as well be a monkey in this situation), then it's sheer chance.

It gets more complex when discussing a game like Texas hold 'em, which is a classic mix of chance and skill. Sure, the greenest rookie at the table may win a hand or two, or even do well in a random tournament. But over the long haul, players who know what they're doing inevitably come out ahead of their less-experienced opponents.

Based on that notion, can someone be violating Arizona's gambling laws when playing the "skill" game of poker?

"Nope," ex-Judge Lee says. "A thousand times nope."

Few Arizonans know more about gaming laws and Indian casinos than Mark Brnovich.

Brnovich is leaving his job as an assistant United States Attorney at the end of the week to tackle a new challenge as director of ADOG. Governor Jan Brewer appointed the articulate 42-year-old to replace Paul Bullis, an appointee of former Governor Janet Napolitano's.

Brnovich can talk ancient history: "All cultures have a fascination with gambling. The United States was founded on gambling, with the Jamestown Colony financed through a lottery from England. Greek mythology says the gods gambled for everything: Venus won the heavens, Poseidon won the oceans, and Hades got the short end of the stick with the underworld."

But he actually is a law-and-order type who has been working in the U.S. Attorney's white-collar unit prosecuting gaming and casino-related crime in Indian country. The former director of the Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Studies is of a libertarian bent, which is something on which he and rabid government-hater Bud Lee may have common ground.

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It is interesting this article does not report the only Raid on an Established Poker Room during actual Business Hours. If shopping for a prosecutor is so tough, how did the City of Scottsdale manage to do it?

This article also fails to mention of a robberies that have taken place, such as at the now defunct Double Deuce in Ahwatukee. You should mention that a higher "Rake" from a casino helps pay for real security.

Personally I prefer the choice, as a consumer, to select a poker venue that I like to play in and I split my time between a small poker room and the location based monopoly Casino Arizona (where the consumers happiness is at best an afterthought).

This is not some crusade in Gambling rights, this is about making money. And the irony here is that there is not much money in live poker, most casinos didn't want it until the "Poker TV Boom" in the 90's, and that is because the gambling public now demanded it.

That is why you don't see real business men and women in this arena. THERE IS NO REAL PROFIT TO SPEAK OFF! To prove this look at the comments of these poker capitalists posting their arguments on a comment forum. Nice.

In-fact I would bet that a hotdog vendor on a good corner makes a higher Profit than any of these guys.

But at the end of the day ,and for whatever the reason, it is nice to see an individual like the Judge take on the government at any level. Good Luck to the Judge and these small poker room operators.


I love a good public squabble!

There are many forms of gambling that involve elements of skill, including sports betting and blackjack.

There are also legal forms of gambling such as buying and selling publicly traded stocks. A form of gambling that tends to attract a lot of suckers who proceed to get cleaned out by the professionals.

I do, in the end, agree with ex-judge Lee, playing poker is a sport that can't be played properly without wagering. Those who wish to ban it off reservation fall into two groups, moralists and monopolists.

I'd bet that Harold loses his bet and ends up in jail but I appreciate his effort.

Judge Lee
Judge Lee

Taking into consideration your conduct; I can certainly understand why you wouldn�t want to discuss this in a public forum. The motion to dismiss you filed in court seems to indicate that you don�t want to discuss it there either. But, it is a public forum and this issue underlies the whole article. It begs the question that was brought forth in the article; why after all this time (4 years) has there not been legislation developed to deal with the problem?

The answer is that we can�t afford to pay our lobbyist. We have had to fight off two packs of wolves; the gambling industry (and their lawyers) and the turncoats within our ranks (and their lawyers). This story would have been much different if the movement had not been infested with the likes of you and Donna (and your lawyers).

This �one man band� as Rubin called me (has nearly 2000 registered members in the choir) but, even though we have had no problems with state authorities, we have had to struggle for over three years with a rogue police agency (funded entirely from gambling money). And, as if that were not enough of a challenge, we have had you two scoundrels renege on your agreements costing the movement thousands of dollars and, months of unnecessary legal expense; so now who crippled who Christine?

This one-man band has been trumpeting the cause for five years next month and, while we have come far, if you two slugs had merely kept your promises, we would have already hired our lobbyist and been introducing legislation. Then it surely would have been a different article.

The ball is in your court Ms. Korz---along with our property.

Christine Korza
Christine Korza

This is not the appropriate place for this discussion. The court of law you have summoned me to is the correct place. There is no reason that the readers of this fine Phoenix publication need to be subjected to it. I just wanted to make sure that anyone reading Chad's opinions were aware of his role in your operation since he neglected to represent himself properly.

Judge Lee
Judge Lee

Chad (Chief Operating Officer of Arizona Card Room, Inc.) identified himself correctly and it was obvious who he was representing. You should recognize him, as you might recall, he also negotiated an agreement with you. Of course, true to your character you shined himn on too.

Christine, just how were you crippled? You have never paid more than a few hundred bucks. In fact, we paid you with our revenue to help get your unprofitable LLC into the black. When you achieved profitability you complained about the amount owed. Chad cut the obligation over half and reduced the rate to 7% just for you. You agreed to the terms, but of course you again didn�t perform. You just decided to steal the money and the hard copies of our ICGPA applications.

Come on Christine, rather than do what you agreed to do; you blew the union�s money on a lawyer to help you weasel out of your agreement. You clearly do not care about defending the sport or the players. Just like the sorry Donna in Tucson; your insatiable greed and bloated ego has overwhelmed your sense of fairness and decency. And, like Donna before you; you will likely be out of the business soon. Those of us that have been fighting for poker for years know that you have stolen the union�s money and that you word is worthless.

We intend to move ahead with our plans and you have been just one more bump in the road to freedom for the game of poker. I do not know if the Arizona Card Room, Inc will bring an action; that will be up to the new Board of Directors. But you might want to keep paying that lawyer.

Omar Tentmaker
Omar Tentmaker

I visited Christine's store front poker room recently on a slow night. I paid $60 to play; $20 first-time membership fee + $40 game fee. There were only nine players at one table when we began + the efficient and tolerant dealer. The game lasted less than two hours. I won first place tournament money of $200, less $20 as a dealer tip. After game admission fees my net was $120. The second place player got $100. The other seven received nothing. This was the first time I had ever played poker (either "live" or internet), although I watched plenty of TV poker shows. I am pretty sure the average level of player ability there that night bordered on incompetent.

Christine Korza
Christine Korza

The previous commenter "Chad" did not fairly identify himself as part-owner of Lee's "enterprise", so his opinions should be taken in the clearly-biased context they are made.

Thanks to Paul for such a well-written article on off-reservation poker in Arizona. There were two moderately-significant factual errors that I noticed. Lee is not charging 15% of the profits for his so-called "charter", he is charging a crippling 15% of the gross revenues.

The second error was that the ADOG did not find that Club Royale was making $550 an hour off of one table, that was their estimate of what they were making off of the entire room with (I believe) 6 tables going at once. Even the casinos, with their exorbitant rake, don't make $550 an hour off of one table.

Thanks for the great coverage of what we do here, and I hope that some of your readers will come and check us out! :)

-Christine, Poker Nation


The Judge has clearly stated the facts regarding the legality of his business as well as the refusal of Christine (Owner of Poker Nation USA) to pay the money that is owed to the ICGPA (a non-profit organization, union of poker players) as well as the Arizona Card Room, Inc., (a business that provides a safe and secure environment for ICGPA members to play card games and other games of skill).

Christine has collected money from players for the purpose of joining the ICGPA, but has spent their money on her operation instead of paying the ICGPA its dues that total over $10,000. She also owes money to the Arizona Card Room, Inc. that she has refused to pay to this date that total over $15,000.

Poker Nation USA does not meet the standards of any legitimate card room business and lacks the security measures to secure the players money while the card room activities are in progress. Any player playing at Poker Nation to this date, "IS GAMBLING" in regards to thinking that their money is secured in a safe environment. There is no armed security guard protecting the player�s money. It is merely kept in a closet (office) that remains unlocked at all times. The dealers lack the dealing skills and knowledge of true dealing procedures to run the games and would not pass any of my auditions. I have been in the casino business for over fourteen years and have managed casino poker rooms and I will honestly say that Poker Nation is far from what I would consider a safe and secure environment for any poker player. I have played poker at Poker Nation and have experienced first hand the dealer�s lack of knowledge to shuffle properly, protect the rack, run the game and also there constant interference with the action that is going on in the hand. This room is also in violation with Phoenix City Fire Codes by allowing players to occupy the room over its permitted capacity. This is a serious fire hazard!

I believe that the Ace High Card Room located in Surprise, run by Mike Orlando and Ron Curcio provide a card room that is superior to Poker Nation USA and their security measures for protecting the players money is top notch. You can find out more information about the Ace High Arizona Card Room at

Their address is: Ace High Arizona Card Room 12751 West Bell Road Surprise, Arizona 85374 (623) 251-4175

I believe that any poker player living in Arizona should stand up and fight for their right to play poker in other venues other than the casinos. One way to contribute to the cause would be to join the ICGPA.Ace High Arizona Card Room is an Arizona Card Room, Inc. licensed business and is an ICGPA sanctioned card room. You can apply at this location to join the ICGPA.

If you would like to know more about what Judge Harold Lee is fighting for, view his website @ for more information.

Judge Harold Lee
Judge Harold Lee

I neglected to mention that the argument with Christine was not over money, it was over the ICGPA application hard copies. Also, I was the one that yelled out to call the police because she was stealing our ICGPA applications. Christine then lied to the police when she told them she would have them for us the following day. This was just more of her lies and drivel to avoid keeping her word. Frankly, many of us that were there for her when she was struggling are ashamed of her now.

Judge Harold Lee
Judge Harold Lee

Paul Rubin�s article made light of one of my principle defenses; that the international sport of poker is exempted within the State gambling law; as a bona fide business whose transactions are valid under the law of contracts (ARS 13-3301 definition of gambling).

You also neglected to mention the website of our professional guild at A visit to the site will help explain why we have been in business since 2005 without so much as a warning from any bona fide police agency or prosecuting authority. Also, the falling out with Christine involved issues of safety and rules violations as well.

At our website one can also discover some of the reasons that the new head of the gambling police (Mark Brnovich) is being forced to go shopping for a prosecutor to handle a criminal case against me. He may have a problem since I am not breaking the law. (Oh, by the way, the case in Tucson was dismissed against me when they discovered I wouldn�t be blowing anymore money on legal fees for their specious civil case.)

As you should have mentioned at some point; I took extraordinary measures years ago to establish a lack of intent (a critical element in criminal prosecutions). We went directly to prosecutors and challenged their authority over our sport; and to this day we have never received any indication that we could be violating the law. It seems likely the prosecutors agree in principle with our position. In any event it will be a large hurdle for the new head of the gambling police to overcome.

It is not correct that I want unfettered poker rooms all over the State. To the contrary; the ICGPA has been in discussions for over a year with lawmakers and others, to craft legislation and oversight for the sport of Poker. We have a plan to open arenas in partnership with local government to ensure the safety of the players and the community.

As for the comment that my view regarding the Indians is paternalistic; I contend that the BIA view is the paternalistic one. Actually, my view is that the entire reservation system (which hatched this rouge police agency funded entirely by the gambling industry) is nothing but systemic racial segregation and apartheid. This is another important point you neglected to mention in your article.

My position is that the reservation communities should become cities or townships and then can handle their own affairs. We do not see them as children like the government maintains; we see them as future business partners. Here is part of a letter being prepared for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. If the white guys running the gambling police really cared about the Indians, they would encourage them to join with the players in organizing the sport for all of the citizens of the state.

To: Inter Tribal Council of Arizona April 15, 2009

Fm: International Card & Game Players Association, Inc.

The ICGPA has been laboring for over four years to bring the Sport of Poker home to Arizona, which has had a very rich and colorful history with the sport. The advantages to the entire State cannot be overstated. We seek the help of your organization in organizing the sport of poker in Arizona, across the country, and around the world. We are seeking to come before you and share our vision of how the Tribes working together, with the ACR System, can provide all us very generous rewards; both social and economic.

A venture group (THEBIAS) is being developed to work with the Arizona Card Room, Inc and their ACR System to provide safe and fair venues for the sport of Poker; and its many millions of players and fans. The ACR System is beginning its fifth year of operations next month and would have been much further along in their growth plans, but for the illicit and unnecessary attacks launched from the reservation system�s gambling police.

This forced us to develop a strategy to end these illicit and ultimately fruitless attacks. So we began researching the source of the problem; the BIA reservation system and the AIG Compact. It was not long into the research before we realized that the entire reservation system is a colossal fraud. It is, and always has been, a bastion of racism and segregation; closeted in a society claiming freedom and equality for all.

This discovery has not only given us new resolve to free the sport of poker, it has also provided us another goal; to close the BIA, while freeing our indigenous peoples from two hundred years of forced segregation and isolation. We do not want to halt or prohibit the gaming businesses you have acquired, from your long period in isolation. In fact, we believe those gains should be secured by real contracts, instead of the immoral and illicit Compact you were forced to sign with the State of Arizona.

Many times I am asked; how do I know that the reservation Indians really want freedom?Honestly, I do not know. I know that institutionalization is a very real human condition; which could certainly skew a person�s judgment. Regardless, under the U.S. Constitution freedom and equality are not optional for the citizens; they are mandatory. But, our bigger concern should be what do we both want for our grandchildren? No American citizen should ever be willing to accept government policy; that sustains or supports, racism, segregation or apartheid---never, under any rationale can we justify this behavior!

Any reading of history will conclude that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created from, and sustained by, fraud, prejudice, and blatant racism. Not one thing alleged by the government, regarding the reservation system, is even remotely true. The various tribes are not sovereign nations or any other kind of sovereignty. They do not have genuine self governments or binding treaties. They are purported to be (and are treated like) wayward children. But, after a couple of centuries, we can no longer get away with calling them childlike or immature. It is certain by now that they can handle their own affairs. These lies have been peddled to all of us for so long that the lies have become institutionalized.

We find no evidence that the BIA has ever been a virtuous organization; and as citizens we have a right to demand that it be closed down, and the responsibility for the affairs of Indians, be assumed by them and/or an Inter Tribal Council representing by all of the Indigenous American cultures. Our government should stop trying to camouflage the BIA. It should instead, get busy providing these good people their full rights, and responsibilities as voters and citizens of the United States.

Everything happens for a reason (maybe we can make a silk purse out of a sow�s ear after all).

We very likely would have been much further along developing our union, but for the constant harassment from the Arizona Department of Gaming, and their private police force controlled by the gambling industry. While we were able to convince prosecutors to leave us to do our business; the ADOG police have continued to claim control of our sport despite nearly unanimous support for us from all other enforcement authorities.

There conduct forced us to delve into the power behind this rogue agency that disrespects prosecutors and local authorities. It turns out to be another deformity born out of our immoral and illicit BIA reservation system. For too many generations, we have been ignoring the crimes of segregation and racial apartheid scattered around the country. History is clear on the subject; the BIA was created out of (and continues to survive by) lies, distortions, and treachery.

Segregation and apartheid are crimes against humanity; and they make victims of all of us. Allowing the BIA to continue will make a sham of everything we aspire to as nation; it shreds the very fiber of our Constitution. There are other costs as well.

Here is a bizarre paradox spawned from the AIG compact monopoly; while the gambling industry is not recognized as legitimate business in Arizona, they have their own police force running amok within the State, ignoring the licenses of the municipal governments, declarations of county attorneys, and even the State Attorney General�s opinion on the legitimacy of our business. So we have designed a response to counter act their nonsensical harassment. Shut down their sanctuary by forming a business alliance with the Tribes.

Step one is to build a good model: The Guadalupe Project.

While the Yaqui settlement of Guadalupe may have had some problems in its short history of incorporation (1975) Yaquis began settling there in 1907. Many of the problems experienced by the Town of Guadalupe came from contracting out important city services to incompetent personnel. Neither the state nor federal government has ever seriously contemplated helping the tribal governments work towards obtaining a city or town charter. Very little resources have been spent on helping tribal governments assume responsibility for their own affairs.

It is important to our plan that we provide an income stream to every tribal community that becomes involved with THEBIAS. We have a very ambitious plan and it will require that the tribes ally with each other and not allow ancient history to interfere with success.

Therefore we urge you to read the general proposal (attached) we have presented to the Town of Guadalupe. Please keep in mind that we will be seeking the help of any recognized American Indian Tribe or their members to join our organization. The offer we are making to the Town of Guadalupe will be extended to other tribal communities as well. There is much left unsaid in this overview of our concept. We hope to bring more detail and answer your questions at a future joint meeting.

Judge Harold LeeExecutive Director of the ICGPA

Joksy Hones
Joksy Hones

> Lee is not charging 15% of the profits for his so-called "charter", he is charging a crippling 15% of the gross revenues.

15% of 15K Gross = 2,250 per month, with overhead of say 4K per month, $1,650, or a difference of $600 per month or $7K per year. While you keep the remaining 11K-2K to Lee (either way) and your golden egg still nets you a cool 100K+ pre tax.


Your math is based on some bad assumptions. Under "Judge" Lee's formula, with a fee of 15% of gross, a growing card room would never have sufficient capital to grow and fulfill its financial obligations. There's a reason he's now facing a grand jury for his scam.

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