Fight the power

Gutshot legal battle delays new guidelines on poker in the UK

We might live in one of the most liberal societies in the world but poker is still getting a battering from the powers that be. What’s worse is that no one seems to know where and when you can play and what actually constitutes an offence. New guidelines, to help clear up the confusion, were due to be issued by the Gambling Commission last month, but with the Gutshot poker club still embroiled in a legal battle the decision was taken to delay them.

With no date set for the new guidelines to be published we thought it was time to catch up with Phil Brear, director of operations at the Gambling Commission, to find out exactly what the current state of play is.

PP: Why have the new guidelines been delayed?

PB: The Gutshot is currently being prosecuted and we think it would be frowned upon to issue guidelines immediately before or after that trial. We’re waiting to see when the trial gets listed [the trial was set for January 2007 as the mag when to press] and we can then put the guidelines out at a safe distance from the trial.

PP: Does any form of commercial poker have to be played on licensed premises?

PB: Equal chance gaming for monies or monies worth can only be played where the Gaming Act permits it to be played. If it’s played anywhere outside of the Act it’s an offence by those who play, organise and host the game.

PP: So playing poker for money in a pub is illegal?

PB: Playing poker in pubs for money, generally, is illegal. But, if it’s for charity and it’s a one-off and there’s no commercial gain to the licensee then it’s potentially legal if it’s played with a prize limit of up to £4 per head. If it works that the charity’s getting a fiver, the licensee’s making a few hundred quid extra over the bar and the winner’s walking away with £250, you have to ask, is that really the game the Act was designed to cover? A case like this has never gone to court.

PP: And if you’re not playing for money? How about if you’re playing for points in a league system?

PB: In theory playing poker for points is lawful. But if the players who get knocked out sit in the corner and play for money, that’s illegal gaming and the organisers and the licensee are committing an offence. It might also become illegal if the guy who wins gets, for example, a holiday to Florida – that counts as gaming for monies worth. But, say you’re playing for three months and you don’t get a prize until you’ve played for three months, is that monies worth? Again, no one has taken a case like this to court.

PP: What about private members clubs?

PB: If it properly constitutes a private members club with rules and a proper license, it’s possible for you to play as if you’re at home. At home you can play poker to your heart’s content. The private club isn’t allowed to take a rake off the pot, but if it’s a genuine club with a membership you can play poker without a limit on stake.

PP: And what are the current penalties?

PB: Most offences carry fines up to about £5,000. There are a couple that provide a more serious penalty of six months in prison or £10,000.

PP: What about online poker?

PB: You can play poker or other games on the internet – there are no rules against this in the UK.

PP: And the Gutshot case? Is it going to have a big impact on other clubs that are operating at the moment?

PB: It’s possible to construct circumstances where it’s possible to play poker legally but the Gutshot is being prosecuted and depending on the outcome of the case a number of other operators will have to look at their own arrangements.

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