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Poker in public houses

Poker has never been more popular. Poker games are now even televised regularly and the top players have even acquired a certain amount of fame. The games profile has never been higher.

Many pubs around the country advertise regular poker nights. In the past this was illegal but the Gambling Act 2005 has changed that. Many rules about gambling have changed including a relaxation in the law with regard to playing poker in licensed premises.

As mentioned above it is now legal for poker to be played in pubs and clubs but there are strict restrictions on the way that the game can be played, and a number of duties placed upon the licensed premise's Designated Premises Supervisor.

Duties

These include ensuring:

  • That all players are over 18 years of age. This should include:
    • restricting the gaming to premises or parts of the premises which are open only to over 18s;
    • strict and detailed ID checks;
    • refusing participation to anyone who is apparently under 18 years and who does not have acceptable ID.
  • No Participation Fees may be charged for entry.
  • Generally, gaming must be ancillary to the rest of the pubs activities. It should not be (or become) the main purpose for which people come to the premises.

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Stakes and winnings

  • The maximum that may be staked per player per game not per hand is £5.
  • The maximum amount of stakes between all the players in a particular premises in any one day (defined as 24 hours from 12 noon to 12 noon) is £100. This means that you can only have a maximum of twenty players if each stakes the maximum of £5.
  • The most that can be staked on games of poker in a single premises over any seven day period, between all the players involved, is £500.
  • The maximum amount that can be won in any particular game (not per hand) is £100. This matches the amount of total stakes permitted.

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Responsibilities of the Designated Premises Supervisor

The Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) has legal responsibility for ensuring that the rules relating to poker events are followed. A breach of the rules constitutes a criminal offence, with potential consequences for the DPS themselves. Prosecution can jeopardise both his/her Personal Licence the Premises Licence can be reviewed and the Local Authority can also prevent the premises from holding any future poker evenings.

  • All gaming must be located so that it can be properly supervised by the Premises' staff.
  • The staff must be properly trained and briefed about the rules and the event, their roles and responsibilities.
  • There must be procedures to prevent under-age gambling.
  • All payments in respect of the event (i.e. chips purchased, stakes placed, etc.) should be paid for in cash before the start of the game. There must be no credit.
  • All players must be notified of any stake limits.
  • All equipment used (cards, chips, etc) must be supplied by the premises and securely stored when not in use. It should be replaced if it is damaged or marked. No player should be allowed to supply their own cards, chips, etc.
  • The rules of the game being played must be displayed or in some other appropriate way made available to all players, (e.g. laminated cards) before and during the game.
  • The DPS is responsible for ensuring a pleasant atmosphere and preventing participation by customers who cheat, issue threats or otherwise create a disturbance or damage equipment provided.
  • In order that the DPS and any Authority carrying out checks can ensure that the various stakes and prize limits are not being broken, the DPS must keep a record of:
    • The number of games played;
    • The number of players; and
    • The amount staked.
  • The DPS must take all reasonable steps to ensure that no-one is breaking the stake limits, etc. by side bets, additional raises or any other ways of increasing the pot. If the DPS discovers this sort of activity going on, the game must be stopped immediately and the stakes returned to individual players.
  • The Gambling Commission recognises that the above restrictions are very difficult in practice for premises and the DPS to comply with. They therefore strongly recommend that cash games are not permitted. However, if cash games are allowed, the pot must be kept in sight so that it can be viewed by the DPS at all times. It has been suggested that this means that the pot should be kept behind the bar!

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Summary

The effect of the new regulations is effectively a relaxation against the general bar on games of poker in pubs. However, the act does impose very strict regulations upon the amount to be staked and the responsibilities of the management. The rules do not appear to give any leeway for the Designated Premises Supervisor to delegate his or her responsibilities for supervising such games, which, if interpreted strictly, means that if the Designated Premises Supervisor is not on site, the games cannot take place. Advertising has to be kept low key in order to avoid breaching the Gambling Commission’s Code regarding gambling-related advertising and of course poker must not become the main incentive for people to come to the premises.

There has been an increasing trend over the last few years for pubs to offer poker despite the legal ban. In some cases, Operators have been prosecuted by the Gambling Commission but there is a suggestion that in many other cases, a blind eye has been turned to Poker events. This is no longer the case and Local Authorities and Police Forces have been encouraged to crack down on illegal events.

The Gambling Commission has issued guidance specifically for the operators and the users of such premises.

Gambling Commission advice on Gaming in Licensed Premises

See also: 

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