The Gambling Act 2005 – Casino Nights, Race Nights and Card Games/Poker

The Gambling Act 2005 changes the rules on providing gaming and introduces new exemptions for premises licensed for the sale of alcohol. Previously, gaming for money was not permitted, unless you were a licensed provider such as a casino, or unless the game being played was dominoes or cribbage.

However, if you want to provide a night of gambling for a Christmas function or other event, it is now possible, subject to certain rules. These changes came into effect on 1 September 2007.

Casino nights

Casino gaming includes games like roulette and blackjack where players compete against the ‘house’ or ‘banker’ rather than against one another on equal terms.

It is illegal to organise a commercial casino night outside of a licensed casino, although holders of a valid Non-Remote Casino Operating Licence can apply to a local authority for a Temporary use notice to offer equal chance gaming on a commercial basis.

However, it has always been possible to provide ‘fun’ casinos, where no real money changes hands. It is now also possible to provide casino games for charitable or other non-commercial purposes (for example to raise funds for a society). The gaming may be an incidental activity or the only principal purpose of the event. 

  • There are no limits on stakes, prizes, participation fees or other charges for this type of non-commercial gaming and no licence, permit or other form of permission is required provided that the following conditions are complied with: 
  • None of the proceeds of the event (ie the sums raised by its organisers including participation fees, sponsorship, commission or otherwise) minus the reasonable costs of organising the event (including the provision of prizes or other costs reasonably incurred in organising or providing the facilities for gaming) are used for private gain. 
  • Prizes (either cash or prizes in kind) must be set in advance and must not be dependent on the number of players taking part or the amount of money staked. 
  • Players must be told what ‘good cause’ is to benefit from the profits from the gaming. 
  • The gaming must not be remote (eg via internet link or telephone). 
  • The profits must be applied for the purpose specified to the players.

Sums raised by those other than the ‘organisers’ are not considered to form part of the proceeds of the event and therefore may be appropriated for private gain. Therefore, a hotel may charge for the provision of the room and meals/refreshments when hosting a casino night and keep those proceeds.

However, BEWARE – if your hotel provides or arranges the casino tables etc on behalf of your customer, you could be considered the organiser and therefore not be able to retain any proceeds. It is therefore essential that the customer ie the person booking the function, arranges the gaming for the evening.

Please remember that if the casino night is to be provided in a premises/area which does not have the benefit of a premises licence under the Licensing Act 2003, then a Temporary Event Notice will be required to authorise the sale of alcohol at the event.

Private casino gaming may take place in a private dwelling or hostel or halls of residence with no limits on stakes or prizes. However, no private gaming exemption will apply to a ‘private’ room within a hotel because: private gaming may not take place on premises operated as a trade or business; nor in any place to which the public have access; and no profits may be made from it regardless of the purpose to which the profits may be put.

Race nights

A race night can be held if it is an event where participants stake money on the outcome of recorded or virtual races, where the selection is totally dependent on chance and where no ‘odds’ or ‘form’ are available to assist the selection. The gaming may be an incidental activity or the only principal purpose of the event.

Again, race nights can only take place on premises not licensed for gaming where none of the proceeds from the event itself are used for private gain and all participants are told what ‘good cause’ is to benefit. However, profits for room hire and refreshments (ie sums raised by those other than the organisers) are not considered to be proceeds of the event.

It would be possible to hold a race night for charity either: 

  • With a prize determined by the operator before play commences 
  • Where the nature and size of the prize is determined by the number of people playing or the amount paid for or raised by the gaming.

If the prize is pre-determined, the following rules will apply to the race night: 

  • There are no limits on stakes, prizes, participation fees or other charges. 
  • No part of the proceeds (ie the sums raised minus reasonable expenses for organising the event) is to be appropriated for private gain.
  • Players must be told what ‘good cause’ is to benefit from the profits from the gaming. 
  • The gaming must not be remote (eg via internet link or telephone). 
  • The profits must be applied for the purpose specified to the players.

However, if a race night is to be organised where the prize is not set in advance, the rules are different and there are limits on stakes and prizes: 

  • The maximum amount that a player may be charged is £8 per day (including entrance or participation fees, stakes and any other payments in relation to the gaming). 
  • The total amount paid out in prizes may not exceed £600, although where an event is the final one of a series in which all of the players have previously taken part, a higher prize fund of up to £900 is permitted.

Other than the limits on stakes and prizes, the other conditions for pre-determined prize competitions (for example informing the players what ‘good cause’ is to benefit) will also apply where the prize is dependant upon participation in the game itself. Profits in relation to gaming means amounts paid by way of stakes or otherwise accruing.

Please remember that if the race night is to be provided in a premises/area which does not have the benefit of a premises licence under the Licensing Act 2003, then a Temporary Event Notice will be required to authorise the sale of alcohol at the event.

Card games/poker

Card games and poker continue to be permissible in licensed casinos or in private premises such as domestic houses (but not premises operated as a trade or business such as a hotel). In trade or business premises which are not licensed for gaming, equal chance card games/ poker are also possible in certain circumstances as set out below.

It is important to remember that ‘banker’s games’ such as pontoon or roulette, are not equal chance games and do not come within the exemptions. Equally, some forms of poker, such as ‘casino stud poker’ where the banker or dealer participates in the game, may only be played in licensed casinos or under the private gaming provisions.

Charitable

Under the Gambling Act 2005, equal chance card games such as brag or poker, can be run for charitable or other non-commercial purposes in any public place (regardless of whether that place is licensed for the sale of alcohol).

These games must follow the rules set out above for equal chance gaming for non-commercial purposes ie: 

  • The maximum amount that a player may be charged is £8 per day (including entrance or participation fees, stakes and any other payments in relation to the gaming). 
  • The total amount paid out in prizes may not exceed £600, although where an event is the final one of a series in which all of the players have previously taken part, a higher prize fund of up to £900 is permitted. 
  • No part of the proceeds (ie the sums raised minus reasonable expenses for organising the event) is to be appropriated for private gain. 
  • Players must be told what ‘good cause’ is to benefit from the profits from the gaming. 
  • The gaming must not be remote (eg via internet link or telephone).
  • The profits must be applied for the purpose specified to the players.

Again, sums raised by other persons (for example for refreshments by an independent third party) will not form part of the proceeds of the event and so may be appropriated.

Poker leagues and tournaments for ‘points’

If a poker league is being held for points, it remains permissible. ‘Gaming’ is only where playing is for money or money’s worth. However, if a prize is offered at the end of a series of games for the player(s) with the most points, it is likely that this would be unlawful gaming and therefore not permissible unless held within a licensed casino.

While ‘non-cash’ poker leagues can provide harmless and legal entertainment, those promoting such leagues should be aware how difficult it may be to ensure that the participants remain within the law at all times, and to prevent illegal activity such as side betting or agreements to ‘settle’ games outside the gaming area. Any such illegal activity would bring a licensee’s licence into question and expose the licensee, the organisers and the participants to risk of prosecution.

Premises licensed for the sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises

A limited amount of low-stakes, social gaming is now permitted in premises which are licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises. Within this exemption, there is no prohibition on ‘private gain’. This means that you are now entitled to provide facilities for equal chance gaming without a gambling licence or permit. However, there are limits on the amounts that players may be charged to take part, and on the amount or value of the prizes.

In addition, no bankers’ games may be played on licensed premises, no charges may be made in respect of the gaming, and no levy may be made on stakes or winnings. The restriction on bankers’ games means that games such as pontoon, blackjack, roulette and any others which involve staking against the holder of the bank are unlawful, as would be the taking of a percentage from the ‘pot’ if equal chance games such as poker or brag were to be permitted. Further, the game must not be linked with a game played on another set of premises and children and young persons must be excluded from participation.

The limits on stakes/prizes are as follows: 

  • Dominoes and cribbage – no limit on stakes or prizes. 
  • All other gaming including, for example, brag – stakes limited to £5 per person per game (not per hand); no limit on prizes. 
  • Poker – stakes limited to £5 per person per game and additionally £100 per premises per day (for example 20 players paying £5 each) with a day running from midnight to midnight; prize for game limited to £100.

The stakes and prizes permitted within members’ clubs, Working Men’s Institutes and commercial clubs are higher but still strictly limited.

The Gambling Commission has published a Code of Practice in relation to the provision of such gaming in alcohol-licensed premises. This Code includes provisions on the prevention of access to gambling by children and young people, including holding gaming in areas with access restricted to adults and age verification measures; ensuring that gaming is fair and open, including the provision of rules and equipment for gaming; and preventing gambling being a source of crime and disorder.

Compliance with the Code is considered to be the responsibility of the Designated Premises Supervisor named on the premises licence. The Code contains some fairly onerous obligations, for example: 

  • Refusing access to the gaming to anyone apparently underage who cannot produce an acceptable form of age verification and identification. 
  • Supplying all equipment used in the gaming. 
  • Denying participation to players who cheat or collude with other players or employees. 
  • For poker, not permitting cash games and taking all reasonable steps to prevent individual stakes limits being exceeded through side bets, additional raises, re-buys etc.

Given the complex rules on what does and does not fall within the exemption for premises licensed for the sale of alcohol and the onerous obligations upon the Designated Premises Supervisor under the Code of Practice, it must be questioned whether many alcohol-licensed premises will be brave enough to allow any gaming despite the relaxed regime.