Two men play their cards to fight Idaho's gambling law, and win

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Two Idaho men try their hand in court against Idaho's controversial gambling law, and win.

Most gambling is illegal under the Idaho State Constitution, and is punishable with fines or jail time. However, the law is written in a way that actually puts it at odds with itself, and that allowed radio host Mike Kasper and a friend a chance to make their cases.

Kasper said playing poker was a favorite high school past time, and has been a hobby of his ever since.

"In high school we'd go over to a friends house, their parents house, and would once a month get together for a poker game," he said. "I had no idea I'd been breaking, or allegedly breaking the law for the past however many years."

Last summer, Kasper found out the hard way that he'd actually been committing a crime by throwing in a few bucks on poker games.

"We thought it was a joke when we heard a knock on the door and they said, 'Boise Police,'" Kasper said. "They come in with their guns drawn and we're like 'okay this isn't a joke I guess.'"

Detectives gave Kasper and a group of friends tickets for playing Texas Hold'em. Kasper said most of the players pled guilty to the charges and paid a couple hundred dollars in fines, but he and a friend decided to bet against the odds and take their hand to a judge.

"One of the main reasons we decided (to go to court) was because we didn't feel it was illegal," he said.

Most forms of gambling are illegal in Idaho, Idaho Code 18-3802 states that games of chance like poker, craps or roulette are included in that. But the law also says "contests of skill" are exempt from that law.

Kasper's lawyers formed their argument on the basis that Texas Hold'em is a game of skill, rather than a game of chance. They cited several studies, and had expert witnesses help make the case that luck will only take you so far in a game of poker.

"It's like chess," he said. "The more skilled you are at it, the better you are, the more money you're going to win and the better your chances are at winning."

The local radio host said the state didn't have a strong counter-argument, and couldn't actually prove through the existing statutes that poker is illegal. Court documents also show the undercover officer who broke up their game last summer testified, and admitted he believes Texas Hold'em is a game of skill.

"He admitted that he plays poker here in the Treasure Valley and he plays poker with other people in the police department," Kasper said. "He's never been arrested for the exact same thing we were doing. It's ridiculous."

The process took 10 months, but back on May 15, 2014 the judge ruled that the language in the law was unclear, and too vague to make a clear ruling in these two cases. Both sets of charges were dismissed.

Kasper's lawyer spoke with KBOI 2News on the phone, and said it's unclear where that ruling will go from this point. He also said it is too early to tell if this case could or would be used as a precedent in other future cases.