Pub gaming has always been fraught with
difficulty, because of the severe limitations and restrictions placed upon it.
There has been a long-held view in Government that only limited opportunities for gambling should be allowed in so-called "public" places. This has to some extent been reinforced only recently, with gambling machines in taxi offices and chip shops being outlawed: they may still exist, but are being phased out under the new Act.
The pub is, of course, not a public place, but it is not a licensed gaming establishment and the old and new laws place strict controls on the type of gaming allowed, reinforced by stern pronouncements from the Gambling Commission on how gambling must not act as an "inducement" for persons to resort to the premises.
But an inducement is exactly what pubs want. Last week, the question was asked about poker, and whether this would attract more customers! That is the key to the issues. The opportunity to participate is part of the reasons why people might choose to come to the pub.
Poker is only one type of gambling game, but it is currently fashionable, is easy to
provide, being a card-based activity not
needing a great deal of equipment, and it can be played in a variety of forms, involving both direct cash betting and points systems.
But at the end of the day it relies on a great deal being staked on one particular turn of cards or a face-off between two competitors. It is this which makes it a difficult game to control in terms of high staking.
Limiting the stakes, while a necessity, also tends to take one of the main excitements away from the game. So if the Government is to contemplate removing the ban on poker in pubs, then there has to be some prolonged head-scratching on how it can be achieved with adequate controls.
I do not think a voluntary code will work. This has already been tried with filmed horse racing and with "fun casinos" and the natural tendency is to bend the rules.
The same may be true of poker. I have received enough questions on this issue over the years to know that a pad of paper, or a box of matches, can be sufficient to "hide" real gaming in the pub environment.
The last thing a licensee wants is a prosecution for allowing illegal gaming, even if he plays no part in the organisation. We shall have to tread warily on this issue.