COLUMBIA -- Each week for nearly 30 years, Bob Chimento and his college buddies have gathered around tables in a Mount Pleasant home to play the popular version of poker known as Texas Hold 'em, bringing $20 and spending an evening with pizza, sodas and beer. As the cards flew during a night in April 2006, a half-dozen police officers burst into the home, seizing several thousand dollars in cash and a small amount of marijuana. They ticketed Chimento and about 20 other players for breaking the conservative state's 200-year-old prohibition on games of chance. Most of the poker players pleaded guilty and paid a $250 fine but Chimento and four others are challenging what they said is an antiquated law - poker, after all, is seen almost nightly on TV and is played around thousands of kitchen tables around the country. Even President Barack Obama is one of the estimated 55 million Americans who are fond of the game. Next month, a Charleston-area municipal judge will have to decide a primary question: Is poker a game of chance or one that involves skill and therefore legal under the law? "The typical police raid of these games ... is to literally burst into a home in SWAT gear with guns drawn and treat poker players like a bunch of high- level drug dealers," said Jeff Phillips, a Greenville attorney representing Chimento's group. "Using the taxpayers' resources for such useless Gestapo- like tactics is more of a crime than is playing of the game." Chimento and his friends aren't alone. The Washington-based Poker Players Alliance said it has received so many calls about poker-related arrests that it's created a national network of attorneys - many of them poker players themselves - to serve as a legal brain trust for its membership. "Our interest runs deep in this case," said John Pappas, the group's executive director. Thirty-eight other states have similar laws that consider games based more on skill than chance to be legal, according to data maintained by Chuck Humphrey, a Colorado attorney who tracks gambling laws and a founder of the Tournament of Champions of Poker. Chimento and his attorneys hope several recent rulings will support their case. Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania judge ruled Texas Hold 'em was more skill than chance, exonerating a man arrested for running a $1 to $2 buy-in tournament out of his garage. A few days later, a Colorado man was acquitted of illegal gambling charges when a jury ruled his friendly poker gathering was a game of skill. Read literally, a South Carolina law established in 1802 makes "any game with cards or dice" -- including popular board games such as Monopoly and Sorry -- illegal in the state. But Attorney General Henry McMaster says his office has adopted a looser interpretation of that statute, one that only considers games more reliant on chance than on a player's skill to be gambling and therefore illegal -- an interpretation the top prosecutor says includes Texas Hold 'em. "This office, over many years, interpreted that as a gambling game," McMaster said recently. "This is our law, and the people of our state, speaking through their elected representatives, have made this the law." South Carolina lawmakers have tried recently to change state gambling laws but with no success. Last spring, lawmakers scuttled a chance that would have officially legalized games like Chimento's, sending the bill back to a House panel without debate. Chimento says the men paid a $20 buy-in each to go toward pizza, beer and soft drinks for the group. The "house" didn't take a cut of the money involved in each poker hand. Police said the gathering was not merely a friendly game but an encounter that had been advertised online. They used an informant, armed with $100 in marked bills and recording devices, to gather information. Mount Pleasant Municipal Judge J. Lawrence Duffy Jr.'s decision on whether Texas Hold 'em is more skill than chance will have direct bearing only on how the game is viewed at the local level. But if appealed, the case could reach the state Supreme Court, where justices could gauge the game's legality statewide. "I don't know if what happens in South Carolina will be a harbinger of change in case law across the country," Pappas said. "It certainly sets a very valuable precedent to something that many scholars and poker players already agree on: that poker is a game of skill and not a game of luck."