Poker is a game of chance. In 2005 R v Kelly  was held in a landmark case that poker is gambling and not a game of skill. Court of Appeal upheld that view and specifically rejected any reliance on poker decisions from the United States.
Poker leagues and the requirements of the Gambling Act 2005
Linked gaming is not permissible. Games of poker are linked if players are competing in the same game of poker across more than one premises and the winner of the game gets a prize. Alternatively it is linked gaming if the amount of the prize is determined by the number of people playing in different games of poker in different premises.
In pubs, the maximum stake is £5 per player per game of poker and the combined stakes may not exceed £100 per day. The maximum prize is £100 per game.
No charge may be made for participation in a game of poker. This includes such things as a compulsory charge for a meal or a ‘voluntary’ contribution for playing.
When organising an event which would breach the limits prescribed for pubs, such as a regional or national final, and this is held at a venue other than a licensed casino, care should be taken that the premises has the appropriate permits and permissions and conducts gaming in accordance with the regulations.
Poker toolkit - case studies
Commercial poker club generating huge profits
A commercial poker club in Enfield was regularly generating weekly profits in the thousands of pounds, and sometimes in excess of £10,000 per week. Enfield Council prosecuted the club owner under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (opens in a new tab) which resulted in a conviction for five counts of money laundering and a 15 month jail sentence.
Success in this case was due in part to the early involvement of all the key participants: officers, local authority lawyers and counsel. That meant that from the outset of the court proceedings there was a coherent strategy that everyone understood and could work towards.
The advantage of focusing on the financial aspects of the case was twofold: it meant, firstly, that the scale of the operation could be reflected in the sentence imposed; and secondly that the confiscation investigation could proceed more smoothly. Further details on Enfield Council's website, including the relevant documents for this hearing.
Sticking to prize limits for poker in pubs
A joint visit to a pub in Blackburn found two poker tables and briefcases of poker chips. Players bought in for £5 and player numbers ensured that prize limits were regularly breached.
The man in charge of the poker, husband of the designated premises supervisor, confirmed breaches in poker prizes on the premises. The man was provided with advice regarding poker in pubs and the designated premises supervisor subsequently received a warning letter from the council
Voluntary contributions and members of a club
Local authorities working in five different areas achieved great success in closing down a chain of allegedly illegal poker clubs which appeared, initially in one local authority area, and then spread to four more, namely Basingstoke, Southampton, Bournemouth, Slough and Reading.
The poker organiser initially claimed that these were members’ clubs (and therefore entitled to club gaming permits allowing unlimited stakes and prizes poker), and then later claimed that it was offering poker as private gaming and was therefore exempt from the licensing provisions of the Gambling Act 2005 (opens in a new tab).
The local authorities worked together, with expert advice and support from the Gambling Commission, to deter the operation and as a result, the clubs in all five areas closed down. The case raises two important issues:
- the status of ‘voluntary’ contributions in private gaming
- the meaning of private versus public in the context of private gaming played by members of an allegedly private club.
People joining a club to attend and take part in a ‘private’ event are likely to remain members of the public, particularly if ‘club membership’ is acquired only a short time before, and in order to, attend the event. The courts will not readily allow ‘membership’ status to be abused in order to circumvent the law in this way.
Withdrawal of a club premises certificate and cancellation of a club gaming permit
A joint visit, involving the police, the local authority and the Gambling Commission, to a club where illegal poker was allegedly taking place identified customers who were not members, poker only being played on the premises and rakes being taken by the house.
The local authority decided to revoke the club premises certificate, which also allowed the club gaming permit to be revoked and the premises were closed.
The first decision was to cancel the permit under paragraph 21(1) of s12 to the Gambling Act 2005 (opens in a new tab). Under paragraph 21(4), this does not have effect until the time for appealing has expired, 21 days after notice of the decision is given.
The second decision was to withdraw the club premises certificate under section 90 of the Licensing Act 2003. Although there is a right of appeal under s181 and schedule 5 part 2 paragraphs 14 and 15 of the Licensing Act 2003, there is no provision for the certificate to be effectively re-instated pending the appeal. The decision therefore takes effect once the notice is given to the club.
The consequence of that is that paragraph 17(2)(c) of schedule 12 to the Gambling Act (opens in a new tab) comes into effect and this provides that because the club gaming permit was granted under paragraph 10 (the fast track procedure), it "shall lapse if the club premises certificate on which the application relied ceases to have effect."
Two months later those involved in the previous club tried to apply for new permission under a new name to re-open the club but the local authority refused the application on the basis of their previous behaviour.
Multi-agency operation to close illegal poker den being run in a high street shop
Rother District Council, accompanied by officers from Sussex Police and the Gambling Commission, made an unannounced evening visit to a shop in Bexhill’s High Street where it was suspected illegal poker was taking place.
Three poker tables were in use with 19 people playing. There was a £250 gaming machine, snacks were available on a side counter, and there was also a small counter with a computer display screen indicating a £20 jackpot prize.
Police identified the owner of the premises as the same person in charge of the poker that evening, but when interviewed he claimed he was conducting private gaming on private premises, as no participation fee was charged, nor did he charge for the food. However, the police and district council spoke to the other players and their comments did not support the owner’s account. The owner of the shop was also in breach of a number of other licensing and premises conditions. The shop owner closed and vacated the premises the following week.
Poker organisers ordered to pay £32,000 after council prosecution
Two men have been ordered to pay over £32,000 in fines and legal costs to Kingston Council following a crackdown on illegal gambling at a London private members’ club. Nicholas Clark and Luke Flack pleaded guilty to gambling offences at Kingston Crown Court on Friday 29 April. The offence involved the running of unlawful poker tournaments at the venue for over a year from November 2013 to December 2014.
The Commission supported Kingston Council during the investigation Rob Burkitt, the Commission lead for shared regulation, said “Supporting our partners in the regulation of gambling, preventing illegal activity and protecting consumers is a vital part of what we do. “We are pleased with the outcome of this case and hope that it sends the very clear message that the Commission and our local authority partners will work very closely to prevent crime in gambling and protect the young and vulnerable.”
Further details are available in Kingston Council’s press release.
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Last updated: 17 November 2021
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