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Poker News: January 13, 2007

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Copyright © 2007 New Journal Enterprises

HEADLINE: Poker in court? What are the chances?

Game of skill or a game of chance? Legal aces put’ Texas Hold ‘Em’ poker on trial

DOZENS of gambling clubs in central London – including in Islington – face a landmark court decision following a police prosecution.

The case is whether the Gutshot club in Clerkenwell Road broke the law by charging an entry fee or taking a proportion of the pot from members who entered a card room to play Texas Hold ‘Em.

Punters and gambling industry experts will pack a court’s public gallery today (Friday) as a poker club owner starts his defence in a trial, which started yesterday (Thursday) that may answer the question – is poker a game of chance?

Derek Kelly, the 47-year-old chairman of Clerkenwell’s Gutshot club, will call the American poker expert Professor Joseph Kelly as a witness to support his argument that skill outweighs chance in the popular poker form called Texas Hold ‘Em.

If the Snaresbrook Crown Court jury is persuaded and the Wicklow-based entrepreneur acquitted of two charges of contravening the Gaming Act by charging a levy on games of chance, a sigh of relief will run through the estimated 27 private clubs in the London catering to Britain’s mounting passion for poker – and perhaps open the door to many more.

The jury has already been promised a crash course in the game played for millions by James Bond in Casino Royale so that they can understand the story of the Gutshot, which attracted 4,600 members when it opened in 2004.

Prosecuting, Graham Trembath QC told them: “If I use the following words: a flop, a pair, are you raising?, a blind bet, Texas Hold ’Em. Do those words or any of them resonate with you or ring any bells? This case is all about poker.

“Well, I anticipate during the course of this trial you will have, as it were, a free short tuition in what poker is all about, what poker involves, how it works and so on and so forth.”

The prosecution, drawing on a visit to Gutshot by undercover police on December 7, 2004 when the club took £270 from a prize pot of £2,100, said the shuffling of the cards and the taking of money meant Gutshot was gaining from a game of chance without a licence. If the defence can show that Texas Hold ‘Em does not fall under the Gaming Act’s definition of a game of chance, however, they claim there is no case to answer.

Yesterday (Thursday), the court heard Det Insp Darren Warner read from his series of interviews with Mr Kelly (pictured), in which Mr Kelly defended the game.

In an interview Mr Kelly said: “Everything’s a game of chance.

“Predominantly, poker is a game of skill. What I know is, poker is a game of equal opportunity.”

In the same statement, former Ireland national poker player Mr Kelly had said: “I don’t care how many times I play against Mr Warner, I know I will beat him every time.

“That’s not a joke, right. I know I am the better player… It can’t be luck.” Earlier, defence counsel Zasheen Dhar spent time establishing that Kelly had never attempted to hide the nature of the Gutshot – and its good character.

He asked DI Warner: “Isn’t it right that there’s never been a complaint about cheating at the club?”

DI Warner said: “No, that’s right.”

Mr Dhar asked: “Gutshot is being absolutely transparent about the type of game being played?”

DI Warner said: “That’s correct.”

Later the detective said: “Mr Kelly’s been nothing but transparent about the transactions, chargings – in fact we’ve disagreed about nothing but the point of law that this case is about.”

The prosecution called Phillip Brear, head of operations at the government regulator Gambling Commission which sparked the investigation into Gutshot.

When Mr Dhar, cross-examining, asked Mr Brear to place poker within a “spectrum of games that we know” ranging from those wholly of chance to those wholly of skill, Judge SR Wilkinson stepped in.
“You say it’s a game of chance, in the meaning of the act?” the judge asked.

“Yes, it is,” Mr Brear said. The trial continues.

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