March 18, 2010

Cribbage players: State oversight not necessary

SUSAN M

— By . COVER

Blethen Maine News Service

AUGUSTA — Cribbage players came to the State House on Wednesday to deliver a message: Leave us alone.

Residents of Gardiner, Portland, Wells and Woolwich testified before a legislative committee on a bill that was designed to help them comply with state law regarding low-stakes games.

Instead of supporting the bill, they asked the committee not to regulate cribbage at all, arguing that it should be considered a game of skill, not a game of chance. ''You can be dealt a gosh-awful hand and if you play it right, you can advance up the board,'' said Paul Rice of Wells.

The difference is important because while state law regulates games of chance, it does not regulate games of skill, such as darts, said Maine State Police Lt. David Bowler.

Rice and others told members of the Legislature's Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee that cribbage games held at Legion halls or sponsored by other charitable organizations don't need government oversight.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, would lower the fees the groups are expected to pay for licenses to hold the games.

Mills, who convinced legislative leaders that his bill had to be considered this year because it's an emergency, said cribbage is a critical part of the fabric of life in rural Maine.

''Up in Somerset County, we appreciate these small social amenities,'' he said. ''Some of you more sophisticated people in southern Maine may have other forms of amusement, but we're very easily satisfied.''

Last fall, a state gaming inspector told American Legion Post 4 in Gardiner that it could no longer host cribbage games without buying a license. Many clubs canceled their games because of the cost and confusion surrounding state gaming laws.

Current law says that a license can cost anywhere from $7.50 per board per day to $700 per board per year, Bowler said.

Mills' bill, one of three cribbage-related bills this year, proposes $30 annual licenses for charitable and fraternal organizations. The groups could run games for as many as 60 players at a time as long as they don't charge more than a $5-per-person entry fee, award prizes from entry fees only and prohibit additional gambling.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Hanley, D-Gardiner, and another submitted by Gov. John Baldacci also will address the issue. Neither bill has been printed yet.

Much of the discussion at Wednesday's hearing focused on whether cribbage is a game of chance or a game of skill.

Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, questioned Rice at length about whether a game that involves a deck of cards can be considered a game of skill. ''What percentage of the game of cribbage do you consider skill?'' he asked.

Rice said ''75 percent or more'' depends on the skill of the player.

But Bowler said that as long as a deck of cards is involved, the state police consider it a game of chance. ''Such a random method of distributing something, like cards, it's going to be a game of chance.''

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