Over the last year we have listened to the rumours, speculation and hearsay that preceded the introduction of the new gambling act as we tried to predict how these changes would affect our pubs. For once most of the rumours turned out to be freebet fairly close to the mark and there was not really anything in the act concerning pub poker that was unexpected. What is more interesting, and unknown at this point, is how stringently the new act is going to be enforced.
Although on the surface the new act appears to have provided a more liberal setting for pubs wishing to host poker nights, the reality maybe slightly different. Illegal poker games in pubs have been going on for many years and poker could well have been the catalyst for the creation of that great British institution, otherwise known as the public house. Players used to sit outside in the rain and gradually the pubs were built around them to shelter them from the elements and provide refreshment to those players, who had been chasing their losses for days at a time. OK, maybe I am rewriting history here, but the point is that pub poker has been around for many years.
Due to the law change many venues now seem to believe that their games have become semi-legitimate. In actual fact the opposite could well be the case. The new gambling act enables pubs to offer small stakes games with a limit of £5 per person for each game, with a premises based prize pool limit of £100 a day. This does indeed constitute a loosening of the laws for venues that up until September 1st, did not provide cash poker on their premises. However, the new law also means the Gambling Commission has become one of the most powerful organisations in the country with far reaching powers to punish publicans who flaunt the new regulations.
Whether or not the change in legislation is going to affect pubs in any meaningful way remains to be seen. At the moment the Gambling Commission appears to be playing a waiting game and we can speculate that they are holding off taking any action until Gordon Brown has clarified his position, on the interpretation of the new gambling act. It will be very interesting to see what “the powers that be” decide. Will they turn a blind eye to venues that operate well run events, albeit outside the law or are they going to try and enforce the letter of the law by making examples of pubs that break the rules.
Many public houses have now started advertising poker events that contravene the current legislation and this will make it harder for the authorities to ignore. It would seem that some publicans are unclear on what the law actually permits and this is understandable as having a law degree seems to be a requirement for understanding the terminology used in the Gambling Act 2005.
In our view cash poker in pubs is not necessarily a good thing. We feel that playing poker for money is best kept in casinos or regulated poker clubs. We have seen first hand that there is a huge demand for small stakes poker in the uk and we feel that casinos and poker clubs should be the ones to step in to cover this gap in the market.
The reason for this is because it is much easier to run a well regulated game of poker in a casino or card room, where there is a tournament host present and measures are in place to prevent foul play. The majority of publicans are not going to have experience in running poker games and in many establishments the players will be left to run themselves. This causes problems if there are any disagreements over money or the rules. It only takes a few nasty incidents and suddenly poker is all over the front pages for the wrong reasons. Poker players will not be swayed by sensationalist headlines such as “British Pubs or Gambling Dens? ” but people who are not familiar with the poker community will be influenced by these kinds of stories. I have no idea how many politicians play poker, but I can hazard a guess that plenty of them will see the opportunity to score some points, if public opinion begins to turn against this great game.
We are not saying that we completely oppose cash games in pubs, rather that it would be better if more facilities were provided in purpose run venues, to enable players to partake of the game of their choice in a safe environment. Casinos need to play their part in this by providing the kind of setting that poker players are going to appreciate. Poker players do not want casinos offering poor quality poker games just as a hook to get people onto the gaming floor. The venues which offer well thought out tournaments and cash games are the ones which are going to reap the most benefits of the current UK poker boom.
Whatever happens we are going to continue to provide Poker in the Pub as a free to play league. We have always focused on the entertainment factor and steered well clear of gambling in pubs, which has paid dividends in the amount of new players we have seen taking up the game. The league is currently growing at an astonishing rate, which has seen venue numbers increase by 50 percent in the last few months.
Once again the emphasis is on making sure that everyone has a good day out and I am confident the players will ensure we see some good quality poker. This statement is borne out by the excellent showing of our regional winners at the Golden Sands Poker Festival.
Whatever Gordon Brown’s government decide in relation to the implementation of the new gambling act, it is going to be an interesting few months for those involved in pub poker or online casinos.