Poker club manager convicted

Derek Kelly, 46, was convicted yesterday under the Gaming Act 1968 for running unlicensed poker games in his Gutshot Club in Clerkenwell, Central London.

Kelly, from Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, organised games at his club, charging an entrance fee of £22 gamblers, taking a levy from winnings.

Kelly had argued that poker is a game of skill, and as such, falls outside the restrictions of the Gaming Act, which specifies that a licence must be held to host games of chance. Games of skill such as chess and bridge therefore do not require a licence.

However, despite Kelly’s contention, the jury at Snaresbrook Crown Court took less than two hours to decide that poker was a combination of chance and skill since the deck was shuffled before play.

This decision perplexed Zeeshan Dhar, the lawyer defending Kelly, who alluded to the law being outdated.

"If we accept that a game of chance includes all games of combined chance and skill every game you could possibly think of would fall foul of this particular Act,” he claimed.

Kelly will now have to pay legal fees of more than £23,000 and faces the possibility of his club being closed. However, Graham Trembath QC did not believe a prison sentence was warranted.

“I do not consider this to be a case where any sentence of imprisonment is appropriate,” he said in court.

Despite the verdict, Kelly remained bullish. He said: “Me and Barry Martin (the club's chief executive) will continue to campaign to have poker played among normal people and not casinos.”

One party that was pleased with the outcome was the Gambling Commission. They believe that any other outcome would have caused a spate of unlicensed and unregulated poker clubs opening up around the country.

“The law has always been clear, commercial gambling needs to be properly regulated to ensure that members of the public are protected from exploitation,” a spokesman from the Gambling Commission said.

“Poker is a very popular game, but without proper supervision it can rapidly escalate into a high-risk, volatile activity, as well as create opportunities for criminal exploitation and cheating.”

Editor, - 2007-01-17 11:53:57

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