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« Mantillas & Chapel Veils | Main | And Speaking Of Speed Limits »

August 01, 2006


Mike Koenecke

Just thought I'd mention that, although it is a common perception that a law against "gambling" means a home poker game is illegal, that is not necessarily so.

I dunno about other states, but here in Texas (in a nutshell) gambling is not actually a crime PROVIDED that the odds are even for all involved. So a private neighborhood poker game is legal (whatever the stakes), but if the host takes 10% of each pot for, say, "supplying the refreshments," that's an illegal gambling operation. Slot machines, craps, blackjack, and so on all have a built-in house advantage, so they're out. Here's the relevant section from Section 47.02, Texas Penal Code:

(b) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that:
(1) the actor engaged in gambling in a private place;
(2) no person received any economic benefit other than personal winnings; and
(3) except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning were the same for all participants.

There very well may be a similar provision in your state.


Speaking for the state of Viginia I know of a poker game that was raided. Thousands of dollars were on the table and armed guards at the door. Eventually the state returned all the money. Why?

The owner of the house was not taking any "cut" thus it wasn't a business but only "friends" playing (although be it a couple of dozen people who had never met).

...and I sweat when I put 50 cents on a full house.

Sifu Jones

I'm not sure I see a case for equal-stakes gambling to be regulated at all. Slot machines, etc., or situations where the "house" gets an inordinate cut of the pot, sure. But if five friends want to get together and risk hundreds of thousands of dollars on a poker game, why should that be illegal, according to reason?

Just because people might be more likely to pull guns is no reason, either. That's a matter for gun laws, or laws directed at tracking or dealing with people who have a history of violent outbursts.

Although in all seriousness, I can't imagine any state prosecuting an equal-stakes game of any kind. After all, they get to tax your winnings, AND they got to tax the guys who had to pay you in the first place. If anything, it's a matter of tax law regarding reporting of winnings.


As a police officer in the state of New York, I'd just like to say that Mike and Martin covered the subject well. In my state, gambling is only illegal if someone other than a player is making money from the game, regardless of the amount wagered. Only if someone is charging an entrance fee or taking a percentage does the game become illegal.

The Waffling Anglican

Your safest course is probably to invite a police officer to the game. If he looks askance or angry, cancel the game. If he shows up, however, be careful how you place your bets - cops tend to be pretty good poker players. Skill at bluffing is something they use professionlly.


Jimmy, you nailed the analysis. Thanks for the insight.


I'm just wondering... how are things like raffles and "Vegas Night" at the local parish hall or synagogue exempted? Obviously they benefit the house more than the player.

I've never been at all comfortable with church raffles or other gambling and have always declined to participate. You have all sorts of people who might have gambling problems or might not really be able to afford to participate but do anyway out of some "guilt" or sense of obligation to help the church even though it may be beyond their means. It just makes me very uneasy. Any thoughts?

Funky Dung
"The government knows that (its own members do it just as much as everyone else) and that is one reason why there is 'tolerance' shown for minor violations of the law (e.g., going two miles over the limit).

Actually, the tolerance has a lot tdo with the accuracy and precision of devices used to measure speed. IIRC, the margin of error on a typical radar gun is +-5 mph. Cops can't stop you for going 5 mph over the speed limit because you could successfully challenge the ticket in court by claiming that you were travelling just under the speed limit and the gun overestimated your speed.


In answer to your question, Augustine: They generally have to get a license to put on a game of chance.

Brent Robbins

A law "is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated"????????

Well...guess that means that 95% of America's laws aren't really laws!!!! Most of them are for stealing money and harassment of citizens!!


"...the margin of error on a typical radar gun is +- 5 mph."

That's not what I was taught at radar school, Funky Dung. In fact, this is the first time I've heard anyone state this. The way I was trained, the radar gun is dead-on accurate. The only way it might register a little off would be if the radar operator were at a little bit of an angle to the vehicle, in which case, the radar would register a little lower than the vehicle was actually going.


Jimmy, your link on the word "legamoron" seems to go to the TechCentralStation main page, rather than a specific article...

Mike S

"...the margin of error on a typical radar gun is +- 5 mph."

I believe that margin of error pertains to pacing a car using the speedometer. The speedometer is given the margin of error.


Negative, Mike. I and, I presume, most police officers are trained to estimate speeds against a radar gun. We're certified to estimate speeds to within +- 5 MPH.

John E

So is reading this blog and posting here during working hours a legamoron? Guess I better get back to work.


In California, poker is recognized as a game of skill, rather than gambling. That's a reasonable definition, since over the long run, the good players will always win the money of the bad players.


This is kind of how I feel about 18, 19, and 20-year-olds' use of alcohol.

But maybe I'm just trying to rationalize my own freshman year in college...

Jason in SA

"Legamorons" can be bad, you are right, JO.

Texas *had* one in the form of a sodomy law until 2003. Owing somewhat to its lax and arbitrary enforcement, it managed to get itself ruled unconstitutional amidst a US Supreme Court tirade about humans' liberty interest in using our bodies both in "their spatial and in their more transcendent dimensions."

We need to make sure we're serious about laws or even good ones will engender scofflaws.

But the case was almost worth it just to read Scalia's dissent. Read it here:




So how would this idea of a legamoron and obligation to obey square with drinking laws? A minimum drinking age of 21 seems to square with some of the conditions but not others.

Is it entirely in accord with reason when the mandatory minimum drinking age is at least in part arbitrary? Does it matter that states (in the US, at least) were (possibly) unconstitutionally compelled to past these laws?

It would perhaps not be prudent for you to endorse underage drinking as moral on the blog, understandably. For the past year or so when dealing with this question on my campus and in my peer group in the context of 1 Corinthians 10:28, but I always wonder whether underage drinking is in itself immoral.


I never understood the point of attaching a legal penalty to homosexuality. So, you find a man who has had gay sex. And what do you do to punish him? Throw him in jail with OTHER MEN. Yeah, that makes sense.

Recording tv with your vcr has been a legamoron here in Australia. It's illegal, but probably even the prime minister does it, and is practically unenforceable (unless, perhaps, you were playing them or selling them in a public place). Only recently has the government considered changing that old law when looking at amending copyright laws.


That reminds me of when I used to participate in Model Congress in high school. I always managed to come up with brilliant propositions. My favorite was proposing the death penalty for attempted suicide. "If you can't do it right, we'll give you a hand!" (Of course, this was meant about as seriously as J. Swift's exhortation to breed Irish children for food.)

J.R. Stoodley

Like Augustine, I have never been comfortable with Church raffles or other Church gambling. For that matter, I have never been comfortable with any form of gambling, and have never engaged in it except playing poker with my great grandmother as a kid for pennys that I don't think I even kept.

Probably this is a direct result of my being brought up in the United Methodist Church, where it is still not allowed to have any alcohol or gambling in the church building, or I think on the property or as part of a church function. Even if this is the reason why gambling twinges my conscience as immoral and it is my psycological issue not derrived from the natural law, I still wonder if church gambling is such a good idea.

Catholic gambling is such a joke among many Methodists and I suspect others. It fits so well into the idea of Catholics as morally loose and money-driven. Even if it is not illegal or intrinsically immoral, is it worth the harm to the image of the Catholic Church in the eyes of others?


When I belonged to a WELS congregation, the official teaching of WELS is that charity should be given freely and for its own sake, citing the Biblical statement that "God loves a cheerful giver."

So we did not have any fundraisers of any sort. No raffles, no gambling, no bake sales. Nothing. We financed everything from the collection plate and other donations. When we did have community events like a car wash or a family fair, everything was free. It was done to make ourselves known in the community and to invite people to come visit with us and they could also take home free literature.

So, perhaps, there's also another thing that bothers me about the Church supporting itself through gambling. It's that people are giving out of possibly impure motives. It may be more important to them that they might get something in return rather than giving money for the Church's benefit simply for the sake of giving to support the Church.

Obviously, the Church does not find anything morally wrong with the practice or else it would be suppressed. And the catechism is clear on the permissibility of gambling. (Although one might argue that having a fundraiser that involves gambling may be an invitation to sin for someone who might be afflicted with a gambling addiction and might cause them to stumble.) I still don't like it, though. I accept it, but I don't like it.


"Given that gambling in general is not intrinsically immoral (a point that may not be recognized in some areas)"

...or, as I recall, by St. Francis de Sales - review his Introduction to the Devout Life.


Mr. Stoodley-

With all due respect the idea that gambling should be suppressed in the Catholic church for the sake of others is the first step down a slippery slope we should want no part of. Why is it that we should stop doing something that we, as Catholics, consider to be morally licit for the sake of people who consider it illicit? If you draw the line at gambling what about drinking, what about eating pork, what about celebrating birthdays?

The Catholic church has a long and establised moral order. Been thought about for centuries and there's no reason that it should change simply for the sake of not offending others.

Besides, as far as the Methodists go we outnumber them 75 million to 1.1 billion. If anything there's far more of us that they can offend.

J.R. Stoodley

It's not that Catholics should refrain from licit activities just because someone else thinks it is sinful. In fact I doubt many Methodists today consider gambling in moderation to be sinful. Heck, lots of them don't even believe in sin anymore (same can be said of Catholics of course).

The thing is that by these sorts of activities (as opposed to eating pork or celebrating birthdays, or even drinking to some degree since we do consider any significant drunkeness a sin) we portray a very secular and laughable picture of the Church. I don't know how many times I have heard my mother or her friends joking about the nuns that go down to Atlantic City and gamble. Then a bunch of the parish money comes from raffle tickets and bingo and such things rather than freely given donations. That's a bad image.

We don't think drinking a bit is wrong, but we don't fund every parish with a microbrew. We don't think there is anything intrinsically wrong with theme parks, but you won't find a Pope World with St. Paul's Wild Waterslide and St. Benedict's Haunted Monastery. Just because something is not intrinsically wrong does not mean it is a good idea as a fund raiser.


They don't write tickets for going two miles/hour over the speed limit? I gather you've never been driving in rural Vermont (I know people who've been nailed for 3 miles/hour over).


"We don't think drinking a bit is wrong, but we don't fund every parish with a microbrew."

Historically many European monasteries have been funded by breweries. Certain Belgian Trappist abbeys are renowned for their beer, which is in fact a recognized style of beer called "Trappist Ale" (only those beers brewed in one of the Trappist abbeys that still brew beer are entitled to call their beer "Trappist Ale." "Abbey Ales" are beers brewed by commercial breweries in the general style of Trappist Ales, and who license the names of abbeys for their product; also, any beer in that style is commonly called an "Abbey Ale").



No device made by man can measure without a margin of error. Radar gun manufacturers typically state in their product literature that the margin of error of a correctly calibrated radar gun is plus or minus 1 mph.

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