As we briefly mentioned yesterday, the owner of the Gutshot Private Members Club in Clerkenwell has been found guilty of violating the 1968 Gaming Act by organising games of poker on the premises without a licence.
Throughout the trial Derek Kelly, the club’s owner, has protested that poker is more a game of skill than one of luck, and should therefore not be treated as a game of chance (like roulette) by the Gaming Act. Mr Kelly’s defence accepted that the game of poker includes an element of luck, as indicated by the shuffling of a pack of cards before a game begins, but pointed out that almost all games and sports are influenced by luck to some degree.
This seems like a fair point to make. Most card games involve the shuffling of cards as an integral part of the game, but not all are treated as games of chance by the Gaming Act. Large numbers of popular spectator sports are also influenced by ungovernable external factors (such as the toss of a coin at the start of a football match, or the vagaries of the weather in a cricket match), and frankly we love them all the more for their unpredictability.
We know from experience that luck plays some part in poker. This was illustrated by Londonist's very own 'Editro' a couple of years ago, when he managed to somehow fluke his way to winning a poker tournament at that very same Gutshot club. Surely no-one in their right mind would put that down to skill, would they?
So where should the line be drawn? How much luck is permissible in a game before it requires a licence to be played in public? There’s probably no clear-cut answer, but at least the courts should rule fairly and consistently on the matter. Unfortunately, at least according to one poker-related news source, it does seem that the ruling in this case could be a tad inconsistent:
Despite persuasive arguments by the defence that some games and pastimes excluded from the Gaming Act are governed arguably by a greater degree of chance and luck than poker is (e.g. cribbage and bridge), and that no game whatsoever is entirely free from a certain element of chance, the jury were presumably unable to disassociate the playing of poker from its image as a casino-based gambling activity.
Having dabbled with various card games ourselves in our various murky pasts, we would also tend to conclude that games such as bridge (for example) are just as luck-based as poker, if not more so – although skill clearly plays a very significant part in both games. And yet are we to expect residential care homes and humble social clubs to be fined for allowing the playing of bridge without a licence? Wouldn’t it now be hypocritical not to do so?
Over the last few years poker has surged in popularity, and there are now thousands of Londoners who regularly play the game as a casual hobby, often for very low (or even non-existent) stakes. Many of them will be worried that this latest court ruling could threaten to criminalize their hobby…
Picture taken from Johnny Blood’s Flickr photostream under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence.