Legal advice

Don't take gamble on gaming

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Don't take gamble on gaming

Related tags Premises licence Game Gambling in the united kingdom Gambling commission

Following your weekly pub quiz you have been running a ‘chase the ace game’ and the entry fee is the bargain price of one whole pound.

No one has been lucky enough to win the cash prize for quite some time and the jackpot has continued to roll over for several weeks, the grand prize now standing at a staggering £500.

Should you be concerned that the jackpot is so high? Are there limits to the maximum prize you can offer? Surely this is just a game and there is nothing to be worried about?

The game described above is probably held in other pubs as are other similar, and not so similar, promotions. Operators continually find more innovative ways of livening up a quiet evening with a whole variety of games, some of which are relatively simple while others have numerous stages and complicated methods of ultimately awarding a prize.

The Gambling Act 2005 was introduced to not only update rather antiquated legislation but also to modernise the regulation of commercial gambling across Great Britain. You may remember the former days of fruit machines in chips shops and taxi offices, no longer permitted of course, but the provision of gaming machines is not the only thing that is now tightly regulated.
We often receive queries involving games similar to the one discussed above and most operators expect a simple, straightforward answer.

Unfortunately we usually have to continue the conversation with quite an extensive list of questions: How much is the entry fee/stake; what is the detailed gaming process (how many stages); how much is the prize; are all the entry fees returned as prizes; is there a rollover; are there any deductions made for administration costs, profit or charitable donations?

The reality is that any game played where a prize is not awarded purely due to the skill and judgment of the participant (as is the case for many quiz games and snooker/darts competitions) may be caught under the legislation as ‘gaming’ and operators should beware of the many potential pitfalls of providing unlicensed gambling in their premises.

It is not all doom and gloom, and non-commercial, low-level gaming can be provided on your premises provided that each game/promotion is considered within the legal framework and any appropriate caps on prizes and stakes are enforced.

The Gambling Act 2005 states some types of low level gaming (‘exempt gaming’) can be provided on premises that benefit from a premises licence permitting the sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises. You must, however, be licensed to sell alcohol, which is not ancillary to food.

Only those games where the participants do not directly compete against a bank such as poker, bingo, bridge, cribbage and dominoes are permitted. Other games such as ‘higher lower’ and ‘chase the ace’ may also fall within ‘exempt gaming’ but you must consider whether the game could also be classed as a lottery:

  • A person is required to pay in order to participate
  • Prizes are allocated by a process that relies wholly on chance

Operators are often surprised that many games may be classed as a lottery, which includes the obvious such as a raffle but also those such as the two mentioned previously.

Your game may not be classed as a lottery if there are more than three stages, such as providing three levels in ‘higher lower’, in which case, you may be able to carry it out as ‘exempt gaming’. Such games may be provided with unlimited prizes although stakes are often capped at £5 per game. We have written previous top tips and articles on other types of gaming in pubs such as poker and bingo, which have their own strict criteria that must be followed.

Premises can provide customer lotteries but there are, of course, limitations to what can be provided such as: no rollover; only one draw per seven-day period; maximum value per prize of £50; if tickets are sold, they must contain prescribed information.

No overall profit can be made from a customer lottery, less deductions for reasonable expenses and, therefore, it is not an appropriate method of raising funds for charity. There are, however, other types of lottery which can be used for charitable purposes.

Whatever your promotion or game idea, it is not worth the gamble to risk enforcement action for providing illegal gaming, no matter how minimal you perceive the risk to be. Licensing authorities have the power to not only review your premises licence but you could face a potentially unlimited fine and/or imprisonment of up to 51 weeks.

If unsure of a particular game or promotion you may wish to seek legal advice, although the Gambling Commission does have advice guides available on its website ( and your local licensing authority may be of assistance.

Provided that the appropriate gaming criteria are followed the fun can continue.

Related topics Licensing law

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