Deadwood South Dakota has a storied history – an illegally founded town whose economy was built on gold mining and bolstered by prostitution and gambling. Several weeks ago I meet with the South Dakota Gaming Commission regarding claims that a small group of players have brought back the unlawful gambling days of Deadwood by unfairly colluding in poker tournaments. The goal of the South Dakota Gaming Commission was to determine what steps to take to deal with the public perception that poker games in Deadwood are not on the square. One of the key objectives of the 2-day consulting was to educate the four casinos in Deadwood on the difference between advantage play which is legal and criminal play which is not. As a legal rule of thumb, play that meets any of the following 3 criterion is criminal in nearly every gaming jurisdiction in the US.
1) Alters the outcome of the game – i.e. marking cards, capping bets, switching in loaded dice
2) Makes use of a device, electronic or otherwise to gain an advantage – i.e. video camera or predictive device such as a smartphone program
3) Involves collusion with the communication of information that is not available to all players at the table – i.e. dealer signaling the hole card
The first two criterion for criminal play are patently obvious to most people in terms of both the spirit of fair play and the letter of law. When it comes to team play however, the legal distinction has to do with the information that is being passed along. For example, communicating the running count to a teammate in blackjack is legal because this information is available to all players at the table. By law, all cards in blackjack must be shown before being placed in the discard tray; thus, all players have an equal opportunity to keep track of the count. On the other hand, the passing of pocket card information in poker constitutes illegal collusion since this information is not accessible to all players at the table.
To re-gain the public’s trust in the poker games of Deadwood, the SD Gaming Commission has decided to write into gaming law four simple rules:
1) Poker cards must be replaced at least once a day
2) No electronic devices will be permitted at poker tables
3) Player seating at poker tournaments will be determined by a randow drawing
4) A limit will be placed on the number of re-buys in poker tournaments
These easy-to-implement, low cost measures will significantly reduce the risk of unlawful collusion and other illegal poker activity, and should help to increase Deadwood’s poker tournament revenue to to its previous high from three years ago.