The British have certainly caught the poker bug from their US counterparts. The recent Gambling Prevalence Study published by the Gambling Commission shows that online gambling continues to grow at a rapid pace, and online poker is responsible for a significant part of the figures. Meanwhile, face-to-face poker tournaments are increasingly popular.
By contrast, the Study reports that participation rates in poker played in pubs and clubs are declining. Given the draw nowadays of poker, though, it’s worth considering running a poker night as an alternative, perhaps, to a quiz night, as a means of attracting more customers into your business and persuading them to stay longer.
There are various different ways to run a poker tournament legally, as set out in the Gambling Act 2005 and enforced by the Gambling Commission and your local council.
You can host a poker league for customers, with a maximum stake of £5 per player per game. Combined stakes across all games must not exceed £100 per day, though, and the maximum prize is £100 per game. This includes the value of goods and donated prizes, as well as cash. A poker night will bring additional custom over the bar, but you are not allowed to charge a fee for participating – this includes, for example, having entrants pay a compulsory charge for a meal or a drink during the evening.
Alternatively, you might consider running a poker game and donating the profits to charity. If you do, players must be told what the good cause is, and you can’t charge them more than £8 to play, whether this be as a stake, a participation fee, or the two combined. There’s no limit on the overall stakes from all participants, though, and the value of prizes can be up to £600. Again, this includes cash and money’s-worth in the form of goody-bags or donated items. If you host a series of events where people qualify by playing a number of rounds, the total prizes can amount to as much as £900.
If you have a function room, why not let a group of friends use it to stage their own poker game? You can’t charge for participation or for use of the room, but there are no limits on stakes or prizes and it’s a way of bringing in additional spend. Make sure that the room is properly segregated and monitored, so that it’s not accessible to other customers.
Finally, you could run poker events under temporary use notices on up to 21 days in any 12 month period, in partnership with a company that has a casino operating licence. Unlikely as it may seem, these do happen and bring huge benefits in terms of turnover and publicity.
Poker is certainly a revenue-driver, but the rules surrounding it are complex and the penalties for getting it wrong potentially heavy. It’s always best to get some specialist advice before advertising – let alone running – a poker night, if you want a flush, rather than to fold.