The Gambling Commission has recently warned pubs not to try to circumvent rules on poker by hosting ‘private’ games.

The popularity of poker as a game has grown enormously in recent years. The position on playing poker in pubs changed when the Gambling Act 2005 came into force. It is important that anyone wishing to stage a poker game in licensed premises knows what is legal.  The Commission has updated its guidance note on poker in pubs to cover this.

Background: The Gambling Act 2005
The Act permits equal chance gaming (including poker) on licensed premises without the need to apply for a licence but subject to certain statutory restrictions.  The Act applies to premises which have a bar and where there is no requirement that alcohol is only served with food.

Statutory Restrictions
Poker can be played in pubs but the following statutory conditions apply:

  • Fixed limit of £5 stake per person per game;
  • Maximum daily stake or prizes £100;
  • Maximum weekly stake or prizes £500;
  • Prohibition on any levy or deductions from stakes or prizes;
  • Prohibition on linking games between premises;
  • No participation fee may be charged;
  • Children and young persons (under 18 years of age) must be excluded.

If you breach the statutory conditions you may lose your entitlement to offer gaming.  The exemption permitting equal chance gaming in a pub can be removed by the licensing authority where gaming has been carried out in breach of the requirements. The most likely sanction for breaching these provisions therefore is a review of your premises licence.  You will also commit an offence and would be liable on conviction to up to 51 weeks imprisonment and or a fine of up to £5,000.

Private gaming
The Gambling Act 2005 also permits poker to be played without a licence or the statutory requirements above applying but only in very limited circumstances.  For example, the Act permits ‘private’ gaming.  Some pubs have allowed high stakes poker to be played in a room hired by a group of friends or a ‘member’s club’ – and claimed that this is private gaming and therefore not subject to the statutory restrictions set out above.

The Gambling Commission has recently warned pubs and clubs not to try to claim private gaming is taking place as a way of trying to avoid the statutory limits on stakes, prizes and fees applying.

For poker to be private gaming

  • It must take place in an area which is not accessible to the public, normally a private dwelling, hostel, hall of residence etc.  Private gaming can potentially take place in the function room of a hotel or pub if hired by a member’s club as long as access is not available to the public.  However, it must be a genuine member’s club – issuing temporary membership is not likely to get around the problem.  In The Gambling Commission’s view acquiring membership to take part in a “private” event or acquiring membership shortly before an event is unlikely to mean that these individuals are not members of the public.  Beware – Membership status is not allowed to be used to circumvent the law;
  • No charge may be made for participation even a voluntary one.  There may be no entrance fee or other charge e.g. a requirement to buy a drink from the bar in order to be allowed to play;
  • No amounts may be deducted from stakes or prizes as this is regarded as a charge for participation;
  • No profits may be made.

For further details see The Gambling Commission guide on private gaming

Gambling Commission Code of Practice
The Gambling Commission has published a code of practice for equal chance gaming (including poker) in clubs and premises with an alcohol licence.  The Code has no legal force but is admissible in criminal proceedings and is taken into account by the Commission and in other tribunal proceedings.  If you intend to host poker games in your pub you should be familiar with this Code of practice.

In a pub compliance with the Code is the responsibility of the Designated Premises Supervisor who is known as the Gaming Supervisor.  The Code includes the following:

  • all playing cards and other equipment to be provided by the premises;
  • requirement for a procedure to prevent under age gambling;
  • requirement to keep records of stakes and winnings;
  • games organised by management should be played with poker chips not cash;
  • for management organised games rules should be displayed or available;
  • a duty to exclude customers who breach statutory conditions.

The Code of Practice can be found here 


For any questions arising from this article, please contact Christopher Ainsworth at


Click here to read: A guide for gambling in pubs

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.