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Back To TopIntroduction

29.1 Poker is a card game which involves elements of both chance and skill and is therefore classified as a game of chance under the Act by virtue of s.6(2). There are many variations on the game of poker, but this part deals primarily with equal chance poker where players compete against each other on equal terms.

29.2 In most forms of equal chance poker, players bet or stake progressively into a communal pot or kitty, with the player holding the best hand at the end of the game winning the accumulated stakes.

29.3 Non-equal chance poker, on the other hand, is where the banker or dealer participates in the game and holds a mathematical edge over the other players. Unequal chance poker may only be played in licensed casinos or, if it is ‘domestic’ or ‘residential’ gaming, under the private gaming provisions in the Act.

29.4 This part sets out all the circumstances in which poker can be legally provided. These circumstances include poker:

  • in casinos (including under temporary use notices)
  • as exempt gaming in clubs and alcohol licensed premises
  • under a club gaming permit
  • as non-commercial gaming poker
  • as private gaming.

Back To TopPoker in casinos

29.5 Poker can be played in casinos licensed by the Commission. Casinos can also run poker tournaments at temporary venues, for a limited amount of time, under temporary use notices (TUNs). Further information in relation to TUNs is at Part 14.

29.6 Casinos can offer both equal chance and unequal chance poker, except where the poker is provided under a TUN, in which case it can only be equal chance poker.

29.7 Where a third party organisation is involved in a poker competition held in a licensed casino, the casino operator must bear full responsibility for that competition.

29.8 Where an online competition culminates in live competition in a casino, the online partner may provide systems and staff for the event but responsibility lies with the operator whose premises are being used.

29.9 A casino may have a commercial relationship with an agent to promote poker in the casino, but the poker games that result are the responsibility of the casino and not of the agent. Further information on poker in a licensed casino can be found in the Commission’s Advice on poker played in non-remote casinos.

Back To TopPoker 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). 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 and Poker in clubs.

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/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. However, since 2004 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.

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 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.

Back To TopPoker as non-commercial gaming

29.33 The Act permits non-commercial gaming if it takes place at a non-commercial event, either as an incidental or principal activity at the event. Events are non-commercial if no part of the proceeds is for private profit or gain. The proceeds of such events may benefit one or more individuals if the activity is organised:

  • by, or on behalf of, a charity or for charitable purposes
  • to enable participation in, or support of, sporting, athletic or cultural activities.

So it would be possible to raise funds for an individual providing the proceeds were, for example, for a wheelchair or to support a sporting endeavour. Additionally, events such as casino nights or poker nights may be permitted if they comply with the regulations and are run on a non-commercial basis.

29.34 S.297(3) of the Act defines proceeds as:

  1. the sums raised by the organisers, whether by way of fees for entrance or for participation, by way of sponsorship, by way of commission from traders, or otherwise, minus
  2. amounts deducted by the organisers in respect of costs reasonably incurred in organising the event.

However, sums raised by other persons will not form part of the proceeds of the event and may be appropriated for private gain. An example would be refreshments provided at the event by an independent third party.

29.35 If someone uses any profits from non-commercial gaming for something other than the specified purpose, then they commit an offence under s.301 of the Act. The maximum penalty, upon conviction for such an offence, is a term of imprisonment not exceeding 51 weeks for England and Wales (six months in Scotland), and/or a level five fine.

29.36 The Act identifies two types of permissible non-commercial gaming:

  • prize gaming (which must comply with the conditions set out in s.299 of the Act)
  • equal chance gaming (which must comply with the conditions set out in s.300 of the Act and the conditions prescribed in regulations).

Non-commercial prize gaming

29.37 Provided that the conditions set out in s.299 are met, poker can be offered as non-commercial prize gaming without the need to have an operating or premises licence, nor a prize gaming permit. Paragraphs 28.7 onwards set out detail on s.299 of the Act.

29.38 Poker as prize gaming occurs if the nature and size of the prize is not determined by the number of people playing or the amount paid for or raised by the gaming. Normally the prizes will be determined by the organiser before play commences.

Non-commercial equal chance gaming

29.39 Provided that the conditions set out under s.300 are met, poker can be offered as non-commercial equal chance gaming without the need to have an operating or premises licence. Paragraphs 28.9 onwards set out detail on s.300 of the Act.

Non-commercial casino night or poker night

29.40 A non-commercial casino night or poker night is an event where participants stake money on casino-style games, such as poker, at a non-commercial event, where none of the money the organisers raise from the event is used for private gain.

29.41 Apart from reasonable costs, proceeds (including any entrance fees, sponsorship, the difference between stakes placed and payout made):

  • must not be used for private gain
  • must all be given to a good cause.

Reasonable costs would include costs incurred by providing the prizes. If third parties are selling goods or services at the event, for example if someone is selling refreshments, this does not count as money raised for the charity or good cause and can be retained by that third party.

29.42 A non-commercial casino night or poker night can be run without a licence, or any other form of permission, providing the operation of the gaming falls into one of the three categories discussed below.

29.43 Organisers should note that, under the Act, it is illegal to organise a commercial casino night or poker night outside of a licensed casino. As the law stands, only the holder of a valid non-remote casino operating licence can apply to a licensing authority for a temporary use notice (TUN) in respect of other premises to offer gaming on a commercial basis, and then only in respect of equal chance gaming organised on a tournament basis with a single overall winner (SI No 3157/2007: The Gambling Act 2005 (Temporary Use Notices) Regulations 2007).

Casino night or poker night as non-commercial prize gaming

29.44 Casino nights or poker nights can be held as non-commercial prize gaming. The players must be told what good cause will benefit from the profits of the gaming before placing a bet. The prizes must be advertised in advance and must not depend on the number of people playing or the stakes raised. For example, the individual winner or winners could be determined by counting who has the most casino chips after the game or tournament ends. The winners are then awarded the prizes that have been advertised in advance.

Casino night or poker night as non-commercial equal chance gaming

29.45 Casino nights or poker nights can also be run as non-commercial equal chance gaming. In non-commercial equal chance gaming, the charitable funds are usually raised through an entrance fee, participation fee, or through other payments related to the gaming. The maximum amount that a player may be charged is £8 per day (this includes entrance or participation fees, stakes and any other payments in relation to the gaming). Organisers must ensure that the total amount paid out in prizes remains below £600 in total across all players. However, where an event is the final one of a series in which all of the players have previously taken part, a higher prize fund of up to £900 is allowed.

Back To TopPoker as private gaming

29.46 Poker offered as private gaming can take place anywhere to which the public do not have access and this would include a workplace. Domestic and residential gaming are two subsets where non-equal chance gaming is allowed:

  • Domestic gaming is permitted without the need for permissions if:
    • it takes place in a private dwelling
    • it is on a domestic occasion
    • no charge or levy is made for playing.
  • Residential gaming is permitted when:
    • it takes place in a hall of residence or hostel not administered in the course of a trade or business
    • more than 50% of the participants are residents.

29.47  Private gaming can potentially take place on commercial premises in circumstances where a members’ club hires a room in, for example, a pub or hotel for a private function where equal chance gaming only is played. However, organisers would need to scrutinise very carefully the arrangements put in place to make sure that the particular area of the pub, hotel or other venue in which the gaming takes place is not, on the occasion of the private function, a place to which the public have access and that those participating are not selected by a process which means that, in fact, they are members of the public rather than members of the club. The law in this area is complex and organisers should be advised to seek their own legal advice before proceeding with the event.

29.48 It is a condition of private gaming that no charge (by whatever name called) is made for participation and Schedule 15 to the Act makes it clear that a deduction from or levy on sums staked or won by participants in gaming is a charge for participation in the gaming. It is irrelevant whether the charge is expressed to be voluntary or compulsory, particularly if customers are prevented from playing if they do not make the ‘voluntary’ donation, or there is strong peer pressure to make the donation. A relevant decided case in another licensing field is that of Cocks v Mayner (1893) 58 JP 104, in which it was found that an omnibus said to be available free of charge but whose passengers who were invited to (and in some cases did) make a voluntary contribution was ‘plying for hire’ without the appropriate licence.

29.49 Additionally, the decided cases of Panama (Piccadilly) Ltd v Newberry (1962) 1WLR 610 and Lunn v Colston-Hayter (1991) 155 JP 384 are helpful in guiding local authorities in deciding whether a person ceases to be a member of the public merely because they have agreed to become a member of a club.

29.50 In the first of these cases (which related to a strip show), the court said that an applicant for membership of the club and admission to the show was and remained a member of the public, as the whole purpose (of membership) was to get members of the public to see the show and there was no sufficient segregation or selection to cause an applicant to cease to be a member of the public and to acquire a different status as a member of a club on signing his application form and paying the charge. In the second (which related to an acid house party), the judge said that it was impossible, merely because of the existence of a formal scheme of club membership enforced to the extent of requiring tickets to be obtained 24-hours in advance of the event, to regard those who obtained such membership and tickets as having ceased to be members of the public.

29.51 This means that 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.

Back To TopAdvertising

29.52 The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 amended the Act so that from 1 November 2014, gambling operators that provide facilities for remote gambling or advertise to consumers in Great Britain require a licence issued by the Commission.

29.53 As an example, many poker websites promote other online gambling websites, usually by the provision of a hyperlink to that website. A hyperlink has been deemed to constitute advertising as it brings facilities for gambling to the attention of the person who clicks on the link.

29.54 It is not an offence to advertise non-remote gambling that takes place overseas. For example, a prize could now include entry into a poker tournament, subject to meeting the appropriate prize limits.