Steve Bellis, founder of the Nuts Poker League, which shot to fame after appearing on the Dragons’ Den TV show and now has 500 pubs organised in leagues across the country, says hundreds are breaking the law by exceeding the £5 per game stake and £100 prize limits.
“They are our biggest competition,” he says. “It’s happening all over the country. There are more illegal games than official games. Around the Merseyside area alone there are hundreds. They advertise on Twitter and Facebook and some even put an ad in the window.
“It creates an uneven playing field. We’ve complained, but the Gambling Commission doesn’t seem interested and local licensing authorities are under-funded and have other priorities. I don’t blame licensees. Pubs are having a hard time. But I’m disillusioned. If it carries on we’ll have to ask whether we sell up or go illegal too.”
A Gambling Commission spokesman confirmed it receives a “constant stream” of complaints about illegal pub poker. “But there have been no prosecutions, as far as I’m aware,” he added.
The Gambling Commission has written to poker leagues and local authorities responsible for enforcing the regulations, saying that the 2005 Gambling Act has been breached, not only in terms of stakes and prizes but by linking games across pubs, charging players additional fees and advertising prizes that involve gambling abroad.
“Councils will take action against those who do not comply with conditions,” said a spokesman for the Local Government Association. “But it’s impractical and not good use of limited resources to monitor every premises, which is why it is vital that if anyone has a concern they report it to their council.”
As well as reviewing a pub’s alcohol licence, local authorities have the power to remove the exemption that allows a pub to host poker, and to prosecute, which can lead to a £5,000 fine or 51 weeks in prison.