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British Jury to rule on nature of poker 10/01/2007
A jury has been asked to consider whether poker is a game of skill, chance, or a combination of both.

Club owner Derek Kelly, 46, is accused of running unlicensed poker games at the Gutshot Private Members' Club in Clerkenwell, central London.

He faces two charges of operating illegally under the 1968 Gaming Act. The Act licenses activities considered to be games of chance, such as roulette and blackjack, but not those designated games of skill - such as chess and gaming machines.

But he has argued that poker is a game of skill and he therefore does not require a licence.

Prosecutors say that merely shuffling the cards introduces an element of chance into the game.

Mr Kelly denies two counts of contravening the 1968 Gaming Act by organising poker games at his club in January 2005.

Poker tuition

The act says a licence is needed to host games of chance such as blackjack and roulette but not games of skill, like chess and quiz machines.

Proscecutor Graham Trembath QC told the jury at Snaresbrook Crown Court it would learn all about poker during the trial.

The jury at Snaresbrook Crown Court must now decide on the status of poker. They will be given a masterclass in court, including visual demonstrations, in the variety called Texas Hold'em. Graham Trembath QC, prosecuting, asked the jury: "If I were to use the words to flop, a pair, are you raising, blind bets, do these words ring any bells?"

As blank faces stared back, he said Texas Hold'em involved two cards dealt to each player and five cards placed face up as a community pool in the centre of the table. Bets are placed by players on the strength of the hands they can make up from the cards.

He said poker was a game of "mixed skill and chance", and if the jury agreed with him, then they should find Mr Kelly guilty.

He argued that before any game of poker started, the cards were shuffled.

"We would submit that once these cards are shuffled then you have introduced an element, a significant element of chance," he said.

Day 2

In excerpts of his interview with police he said: "Poker is a game of equal opportunity. If I sat down to play with you (Det Insp Darren Warner) nothing would detract from who is the best player other than skill.

"If you do not believe that, I could produce volumes to show you that the best players in the world continue to win competitions," he said.

The court heard that when police visited the club on two occasions between December 2004 and January 2005, they found a charge was being levied on the winnings. On 7 December for £2,165 winnings, the club kept £270 as its cut. On 27 January players were asked to pay £22 to enter the game and given £20 worth of chips, netting a profit of £2 per person, the prosecution said.

In a same statement, former Ireland national poker player Mr Kelly 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.
Day 3

"Without being ridiculous I think there is a reasonable argument to compare poker to the game of life," Mr Kelly, a father-of-three said.

"It is a wonderful way of making friends, it is a wonderful way of making conversation, it is a wonderful way of challenging yourself, so I get a lot out of poker.

He said once the cards were dealt, they were there as a tool for players.

"It doesn't happen over one hand, that is like saying Wimbledon is decided on the first serve, it won't be decided on the first serve. Poker is about the long game," Mr Kelly said.

Earlier, evidence was heard from Nic Szeremeta, 63, from Torquay, Devon, who publishes a poker magazine and is an expert in the game.

He had told the court he believed the level of skills required to play poker were "far higher" than bridge. He also said the skills included an ability to assess mathematical probabilities, strategic and observational skills and psychological skills such as being able to read the body language of opponents.

"The poker game is not just playing cards. The poker game is getting to know the strengths and weaknesses and mannerisms and playing styles of the other people at the table," he said.

The trial continues.