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Guidance to licensing authorities

The Gambling Commission's guidance for licensing authorities.


3 - Poker as exempt gaming in clubs and alcohol licensed premises

29.10. Exempt gaming is equal chance gaming generally permissible in any club or alcohol licensed premises. Such gaming should be ancillary to the purposes of the premises. This provision is automatically available to all such premises but is subject to statutory stakes and prize limits determined by the Secretary of State.

29.11. A fee may not be levied for participation in poker offered by alcohol-licensed premises under the exempt gaming rules. A compulsory charge, such as charging for a meal, may constitute a participation fee, depending on the particular circumstances. However, clubs may charge a participation fee. The amount they may charge is as prescribed in regulations (SI No 1944/2007: The Gambling Act 2005 (Exempt Gaming in Clubs) Regulations 2007) (opens in new tab). See Appendix C for further details.

29.12. In order for the poker to qualify as exempt gaming, clubs and alcohol licensed premises may not charge a fee on games or levy or deduct an amount from stakes or winnings. The gaming should also be supervised by a nominated gaming supervisor and comply with any code of practice issued by the Commission under s.24 of the Act.

29.13. Poker clubs established primarily for the purpose of providing poker or other gaming require Commission operating licences and premises licences. Further information is available in the Commission’s quick guides Poker in pubs (opens in new tab) (PDF) and Poker in clubs (opens in new tab) (PDF).

Removal of exemption for alcohol licensed premises

29.14. Licensing authorities can remove the automatic authorisation for exempt gaming in respect of any particular alcohol licensed premises by making an order under s.284 of the Act (see also Part 26). That section provides for the licensing authority to make such an order if:

  • provision of the gaming is not reasonably consistent with the pursuit of the licensing objectives
  • gaming has taken place on the premises that breaches a condition of s.279 – for example, the gaming does not abide by the prescribed limits for stakes and prizes, a participation fee is charged for the gaming, or an amount is deducted or levied from sums staked or won
  • the premises are mainly used for gaming
  • an offence under the Act has been committed on the premises.

29.15. Such an order could be used by a licensing authorities where, for example, they discover that poker is being offered in alcohol licensed premises that consistently breaches the prescribed limits on stakes and prizes, participation fees are being charged for the poker, amounts are deducted from stakes or winnings, or poker (and other gaming) is the main activity offered on the premises.

Code of practice for exempt equal chance gaming

29.16. The Commission has issued a code of practice under s.24 of the Act in respect of exempt equal chance gaming.

29.17. The code of practice requires owners, licensees, clubs and welfare institutes to adopt good practice measures for the provision of gaming in general, and poker in particular. The code also sets out the stakes and prizes limits and the limits on participation fees (for clubs) laid out in regulations.

Poker in alcohol licensed premises

29.18. The Commission actively engages with the larger national and regional organisers of poker leagues to remind them of the limited exemptions that apply to poker being offered in pubs. Infringements of such requirements as stake and prize limits which are localised are normally best managed by the local authority responsible for issuing the alcohol premises licence. Template letters published on the Commission’s website have proved effective in assisting management of such cases.

29.19. Gaming is only covered by the Act if it is played for prizes of money or money’s worth. A number of poker tournaments and leagues have been established in alcohol licensed premises based on playing for points. In some leagues the organisers offer ‘prizes’ at the end of a series of weekly games for the players with the most points.

29.20. It is likely that the association of a prize with a monetary value with a game or series of games constitutes gaming, certainly by the latter stages of the competition. If the eventual prize is worth more than the maximum prize set out in regulations, then it could be unlawful gaming. For example, if a tournament simply involves a series of straightforward ‘knockout’ qualifying rounds, culminating in a 'final’ game, then the winner’s prize in the final – whether it comprises the stakes laid in that game, a separate prize provided by the organiser, or a combination of the two – must not exceed £100. The regulations set a limit of £100 on a prize that may be won in any game of poker (in a pub). In a knockout tournament, the overall prize is clearly winnable in a single game (the ‘final’) and is therefore won in a game of poker and subject to the prize limit. The stake and prize limits must also, of course, be applied to each game in the tournament.

29.21. Alternatively, the prize competed for may be the opportunity to play in ‘invitational cash tournaments’. Notwithstanding that these ‘prizes’ may be of an uncertain value, and are likely to be held in mainstream gaming venues under regulated conditions, usually a casino, the Act prohibits gaming in alcohol licensed premises being linked to gaming in any other premises. Players competing across premises for a ‘prize’ are likely to be engaged in linked gaming, which is unlawful (s.269(5) of the Act). Consequently, organisers should not host events where players are competing against players in other premises for a prize.

29.22. In some types of tournaments there will be no single ‘final’ game in which it can be said with certainty that the player won the overall prize. In such circumstances, one should look to the individual games played by the overall winner and ensure that the overall prize does not cause any of those individual games to exceed the maximum £100 prize limit per game and the maximum stake of £100 per day.

29.23. For examples of poker tournament, league and competitions games and prize and stake examples see Appendix H.

Poker under a club gaming permit

29.24. A club gaming permit can only be granted to a members’ club (including a miners’ welfare institute), but cannot be granted to a commercial club or other alcohol licensed premises.

29.25. Other than in the case of clubs established to provide facilities for gaming of a prescribed kind (currently bridge and whist), clubs seeking club gaming permits must be established ‘wholly or mainly’ for purposes other than gaming. When a club gaming permit is granted, there are no limits on the stakes and prizes associated with poker.

29.26. If a club established to provide facilities for gaming of a prescribed kind (currently bridge and whist) has a club gaming permit, it may not offer any other gaming besides bridge and whist. If such a club does not have a permit, it may provide exempt gaming provided it is not established to function for a limited period of time and it has at least 25 members. If it wishes to offer other non-exempt gaming, it will require a Commission casino operating licence and any relevant personal licences.

29.27. The poker which a club gaming permit allows is subject to conditions:

(a) in respect of equal chance gaming:

  • the club must not deduct money from sums staked or won
  • the participation fee must not exceed the amount prescribed in regulations
  • the game takes place on the premises and must not be linked with a game on another set of premises.

Two games are linked if:

  • the result of one game is, or may be, wholly or partly determined by reference to the result of the other game or
  • the amount of winnings available in one game is wholly or partly determined by reference to the amount of participation in the other game, and a game which is split so that part is played on one site and another part is played elsewhere is treated as two linked games
  • only club members and their genuine guests participate.

(b) in respect of other games of chance:

  • the games must be pontoon and chemin de fer only
  • no participation fee may be charged otherwise than in accordance with the regulations
  • no amount may be deducted from sums staked or won otherwise than in accordance with the regulations.

29.28. A 48-hour rule applies in respect of all three types of gaming, so that the games may only be played by people who have been members of the club for at least 48-hours or have applied or been nominated for membership or are genuine guests of a member.

29.29. More information about club gaming permits can be found in Part 25 of this guidance.

29.30. Private clubs with a club gaming permit cannot run the premises wholly or mainly for the purposes of gaming, nor can the club make a profit as all funds must be applied for the benefit of members. Experience indicates that illegal clubs will go to considerable lengths to disguise the true nature of their activities. Consequently, building the evidence required to review and rescind the permit can be time consuming and resource intensive. It is therefore essential that licensing authorities scrutinise applications for club gaming permits carefully. The applicant should be asked for as much information as required (such as a business plan) in order to satisfy the licensing authority that it is a bone fide club whose main activity will not be gambling. The Commission are in a position to assist in sharing intelligence on individuals or organisations in circumstances where a licensing authority has doubts as to the credentials of an applicant.

29.31. There is now a considerable body of knowledge and experience as to how a gaming permit can be withdrawn. This may include using other legislation such as the Proceeds of Crime Act (opens in new tab) which was used by a licensing authority to prosecute and imprison one club owner.

29.32. On occasion licensing authorities may consider that, as they have not received complaints about a club, there is no requirement for them to act. In these circumstances it is worth bearing in mind that they are very unlikely to receive complaints about such clubs, unless it is issues such as local noise and nuisance. The people attending the club do so from choice. Secondly, the club is effectively operating as an illegal casino and none of the protections afforded in a casino are in place, such as personal licence holders and anti-money laundering safeguards.

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