Poker is one of the most popular card games in the world. It is played by people in casinos, poker rooms and other gambling establishments up and down the country. It’s also not exactly unheard of for people to organise poker games in their home for friends to come round and play, chucking money into the pot that the winner will take home. Yet is that legal?
After all, casinos and poker rooms need to gain a licence from the United Kingdom Gambling Commission before they are able to operate and allow people to come in and place bets. Should people offering home-based tournaments also be subject to the same licensing laws? Or do things work slightly differently when it’s just between friends?
What the Law Says
In the United Kingdom, the Gambling Commission is the body responsible for the licensing and regulation of any sort of gambling. As part of the organisation’s Guidance for Local Authorities, the UKGC has a specific section dedicated to talking about poker. In it they specifically say that it is a a game ‘which involves elements of both chance and skill’.
As a result of that, poker is officially classed as a game of chance under the Gambling Act of 2005. That is at least how the version of poker that is equal chance and skill is classed and players ‘compete against each other on equal terms’. That is the type of game where players pay into a pot and the one with the best hand wins.
The non-equal chance form of poker is one in which the banker takes part in the game and ‘holds a mathematical edge over the other players’. That is the sort of poker that can only be played in casinos that have a licence from the Gambling Commission. If it is a domestic game but the dealer has an advantage then it comes under the ‘private gaming provisions’ of the Act.
Legal Poker in the UK
Poker can be provided legally in each of the following contexts:
- At a casino that has a licence, even if only for temporary use
- In clubs and premises with alcohol licences where it is classes as exempt gaming
- At a venue with a club gaming permit
- As gaming poker that is non-commercial
- When it is private gaming
What Makes It Illegal?
It’s relatively easy to ensure that your poker game remains on the right side of the law if you’re based in the United Kingdom. The first thing you’ll need to do is to make sure that you don’t charge anyone for the privilege of being involved. That’s not to say that you can’t have a minimum buy-in, just make sure that it goes towards the winner.
In other words, it’s fine to say to your friends that the minimum amount of money that they need to be able to pay into the pot is £100, you just can’t tell them that they need to pay you £100 to play and then put more cash into the pot as part of the game. The second you make money other than from winning the poker, it’s become an illegal game.
That also means that you’re not allowed to charge a percentage of the pot for hosting the game. This is also known as a ‘rake’ and you can’t take one if you want your game to be on the right side of the law. If you’re providing drinks and food for players and want recompense for that, that’s totally fine. The issue comes if you spent £10 per person but ask for £50.
That would certainly look to the authorities as though you’ve overcharged for the food and drink in order to make some money from the hosting of the poker game. It’s something like that that tips the game over from being a friendly one to being a commercial one and it’s commercial poker games that come under the jurisdiction of the Gambling Commission.
No Limit on Stakes
With all of that being said, there is no limit when it comes to how big the stake is that people must supply as their stake, nor on how much money can be won. As long as the other rules are regulations are being followed, home games of poker can be worth however much money the players involved can afford.
Poker in Other Locations
What about if you wanted to play poker in other locations? How drastically to the rules and regulations change? The reality is that in most cases they don’t change all that drastically, unless you’re playing somewhere where the public has access and can somehow join the game. If you’re playing at work, for example, it’s fine provided it’s with work colleagues and there’s no rake.
Regardless of where it’s being played, random people cannot be allowed to join and there can be no fee other than the stake payable by any of the participants. Things are a bit different if it’s in a pub and the pub is open to everyone. If it is a ‘lock in’ organised by the pub manager with his friends after closing time then that will count along the same lines as a game at home.
Games in Pubs
If the pub is open and anyone can join in the competition, then things are slightly different. There are specific conditions that must be met and if they aren’t then the local licensing authority will have the power to act. The conditions are as follows:
- The stake and the prize have maximum amounts attached
- The maximum stake is £5 per player
- The maximum combined stakes taken on the premises is £100
- The most that can be won in prizes is £100, which includes any combination of money, vouchers, payment-in-kind, goods goody bags and so on
- No entrance fee can be charged, including asking people to buy a meal or a drink in order to take part in the tournament
Private cash games are fine wherever they’re played, just as long as it takes place somewhere where the public does not have access. Examples of this are such places as hotel rooms, a private hire venue, a function room and so on. It is the responsibility of the owner of each establishment to ensure that the laws are followed.