I want to start a poker night at my pub. What exactly is the law regarding what I can and can't do?
The emphasis of the Gambling Act and the Gambling Commission's poker code of practice (both available at www.gamblingcommission. gov.uk) is on self-regulation by licensees. Where breaches are detected, a strong line should be expected from the authorities. Anyone disregarding the code and the advice will risk prosecution.
The 2005 Act automatically permits pubs to host poker, subject to stakes and prize limits. In pubs a stakes limit of £5 per player per game (not per hand) applies and the aggregate stakes limit for all players in all games played is £100 per day per premises. The maximum prize is also £100. No entry fee may be charged, nor any deductions from either stakes or prizes.
Tournaments that have sprung up are mainly based on playing for points although in some instances organisers offer prizes at the end of a series of games. If the eventual prize is worth more than the £100 maximum, it is likely to be regarded as unlawful unless it can be 'topped up'. Such 'topping up' is possible only where the prize money in individual games leading to that final has been less than £100 per game but then only if the overall prizes for all games in the tournament average out at no more than £100 per game.
The position is more complicated where the prize being offered is the opportunity to play in an "invitational cash tournament". The Act prohibits gaming in pubs being linked to gaming in other premises. It can be argued that an opportunity to play in a tournament of itself has no monetary value. It can equally be argued that, where participants have come from pub poker games, the prize limit in the ultimate tournament should be restricted to £100 (subject to 'topping up). You should take specialist legal advice before promoting a tournament of this type.
David Clifton is a licensing and gaming law specialist at solicitors Joelson Wilson