If you thought the legality of playing poker was hazy in the United States, you haven't kept up with the changes sweeping across the pond. In what appears to be a landmark ruling on whether poker is a game of skill or a game of luck, English law officials and club owners are waiting with baited breath for the decision.
If it is decided that poker is a game of skill, similar to chess and bridge, the popular game will continue to be played at private clubs. If the decision goes the other way and it is seen as a game of chance or luck like roulette or blackjack, it will only be legal in licensed casinos.
The law in question is the 1968 Gaming Act which stipulates that it is illegal for venues to take a levy from the stakes or a piece of the player's winnings. A year-long investigation into one of London's most prominent private card clubs, The Gutshot, has led forced magistrates to reconsider the old law.
The scope of the investigation into Gustshot has been quite the undertaking since the club has over 12,000 members, but the investigation has only led to two charges. According to Derek Kelly, the owner of the Gutshot club, the tournaments held at the venue are the activities of a private club whose members engage in a game of skill.
"Poker is a game dominated by skill. Provided you are more able, ultimately you will be the winner. Like any sport or game, there are elements of luck. However, the more skilful player will win out in the end," Kelly said in a recent story published by the TimesOnline (UK).
According to clubs and vice unit's Darren Warner, this case needed to take place to clarify the laws. "There seems to be a prima facia case of breaches of the Gaming Act, but there's no test case. The Gaming Act is a book as wide as Wales but there are a couple of specific offences. It's a very unusual police case in that the defendants and the police are saying the exact same thing is happening. We're saying, 'You did this,' and they're saying, 'Yes we did, but we don't think we're doing anything wrong.'"
Several other poker clubs have opened across the country in the 19 months since Gutshot's arrival on the card scene. A bad ruling for Kelly and the Gutshot would allow police to shut down the other clubs. If Kelly wins, it could pave the way for other card rooms to open wherever suitable sites arise.
Ed Note: Play with Gus Hansen, 2005 European Champion Tony G, and Erik123 every day at Pokerchamps.