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Mr. Kelly Bets His Freedom

Is Poker a game of skill or chance? A crown court jury will decide in a legal test case that has repercussions for the exploding popularity of poker games in pubs.

The test case surrounds a smart-looking bar and restaurant called Gutshot on Clerkenwell Road in London that doubles as Europe's largest pub poker club.

A central part of Mr. Kelly is that poker is a game of skill rather than luck and should be viewed like chess or bridge. "I think the Gambling Commission will have great difficulty in finding anyone who will take the stand to say that poker is not a game of skill," he said.

"In any case, I don't think there is a single game that is purely about skill. Take chess; it comes down to skill but to start a game, you have to toss to decide who starts, so even then there is an element of gambling."

The case is to be heard at Snaresbrook Crown Court in south-east London early next year. "Poker has become increasingly popular in the past 12 months and people are seeking to cash in on the demand to play."

Games of chance, as defined under the Act, include bingo, roulette, blackjack and poker. Those that are exempt because they are deemed to be more about skill are cribbage, chess and dominoes and, in some cases, spot-the-ball competitions.

Card players say the law is unfair because poker is essentially a game of skill and they point out that even chess has an element of chance because it starts with competitors tossing a coin to see who goes first.

A new Gambling Act will come into force next year that will dispense with the need for pubs, clubs and bars to obtain a license to run events such as poker tournament.


August 19, 2006
John Tucker

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