Gambling Act 2005

The Gambling Act 2005 replaces the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, the Gaming Act 1968, and the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976. The 2005 act was implemented in stages and was completed in full in 2007.

A new Gambling Commission was also created in October 2005 and replaces the old Gaming Board. This new body is supposedly independent of Government as an executive non-Departmental Public Body, sponsored by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and accountable to Parliament via the Secretary of State. The DCMS is responsible for developing regulations under the Act and bringing these and sections of the Act into force as necessary. According to their website, the new act ""replaces most of the existing law about gambling in Great Britain and puts in place an improved, more comprehensive structure of gambling regulation." Or at least that's the theory.

In the new act, Gambling is described as Gaming, Betting or participating in a Lottery, each with their own definitions. For example, a straightforward promotional question and answer quiz is not a game, it is a Prize Competition and so is outside of the act, and can be assumed, therefore, that it is not gambling.

Under the 2005 act, section 6 describes Gaming as "Playing a game of chance for a prize". A game of chance does not include a sport but it can include any of these activities:

  • A game with an element of chance that can be eliminated by superlative skill
  • A game that is described as involving an element of chance
  • A game with some chance and some skill

You can be playing the game against other people or a computer. Players or the organiser may have provided money. It does not matter if by playing you may lose money, the act is more concerned with whether by playing you have the chance to win money, or money's worth. In comparison, a lottery is a promotion where participants pay to enter to win a prize but the outcome wholly depends on chance (no skill at all). Betting requires participants to predict the outcome of a race or competition to win a prize and they must pay to enter.

In the interim between the phasing out of the old laws and the phasing in of the Gambling Act 2005 there are plenty of grey areas. In fact, if you go online to the Gambling Commission's website and type in a keyword of Poker, no matches are found except one, under casinos. Nor will you find any mention of Poker in the new act.

And this is the problem that GutShot.com, a private Poker club based in London, is facing. It has been charged with the alleged contravention of sections 3(1), 4 and 8 (1) of the Gaming Act 1968 which prohibit gaming in any circumstances where a charge, in money or money's worth, is made for the gaming, or where a levy is made on either the stakes of the winnings. Gutshot has 15,000 members and was set up by Derek Kelly as a club for people who love Poker. They view themselves as being in the entertainment industry.

Despite having kept the police fully informed of their activities, they still face prosecution under the old law. The decision for Gutshot hinges over whether the court sees Poker as a game of skill, chance or superlative skill. If it is a game of skill then the Gaming Act 1968 does not apply, so they can't be prosecuted.

The 1968 act prohibits charges or levies on winnings, even in private clubs over and above 60p per person per day; but Gutshot argue that all monies go back to benefit members by way of the provision of services such as lighting, heating and furnishings. Derek Kelly could go to jail if found guilty, but at the moment he's waiting to hear when his case will be heard in court.

Barry Martin, Gutshot Chief Executive Officer told Gamble.co.uk that he believes Poker Clubs should, indeed, be regulated. However, he argues that it should be by relevant, specific and modern laws rather than interpretations of outdated laws which weren't drafted with Poker Clubs in mind.

Tony Singh, who works as a sports and media consultant with Addleshaw Goddard told The Times Online (Law, 17 January 2006) that "the law is outdated in this area. It hasn't caught up with the modern leisure society in which poker is an acceptable activity. The mid-market press perennially cite so-called moral arguments against poker. They seem to dislike the fact that poker players can make money, seemingly without doing much. I'd question how different that, in itself, is from playing the stock market. Poker is a game of skill. The best players will, over time, always prevail, thanks to their greater skill and ability. "

At the Cavendish Club in Belfast, two hundred Poker players had to hand over their money to police who raided the premises on 28 January 2006. The raid by 40 armed police officers, with full riot gear, saw £23,000 being held as "Proceeds of crime". Presumably they were thinking today's poker players are a throwback to Vegas in the 1940s.

Fortunately for the players, presiding Judge, Desmond Perry, has not seen it that way and has ordered the money to be handed back. The unlicensed premises, frequented by professionals and regulars, are well known throughout Northern Ireland and owner Sean Murphy is often featured on TV Poker programmes. However, in giving back Murphy his club's money, the judge also told him to close the club, which is apparently what has already happened.

What does all this mean?

  • Can you play poker at home?
  • Can you play poker down your local pub?
  • Can you start your own poker club?

Please see Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Law and Poker