Game over for Hoxton club found guilty of playing too much poker

The game is finally over for a private members’ club in Hoxton, whose licence has been revoked in court for operating as a large scale poker venue.

The International Private Members Club in East Road vowed to fight the council’s decision last October to cancel the club’s gaming permit and withdrew its premises certificate, for showing a “disregard” for the conditions laid out.

The club applied for a licence three years ago, and listed amongst other activities, chess, draughts, backgammon, Sudoku, bridge, scrabble, and pool as games that would be played there.

But an 18-month investigation by the council’s licensing enforcement team in conjunction with police - prompted by gambling’s regulatory body, the Gambling Commission – alleged poker was the main use for the whole premises.

The 2005 Gambling Act allows private members clubs to provide chance games like poker, as long as they are not “wholly or in the most part,” their reason for being.

The club, which has 11,000 members and is run by a committee of 12, has continued to operate without being able to sell alcohol.

But on Monday, its appeal was dismissed at Thames Magistrates’ Court, with costs of �18,000 awarded to Hackney Council.

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Welcoming the decision, Gambling Commission director of regulatory risk and analysis Matthew Hill, said: “This verdict confirms that the narrow permission allowing members of genuine members’ clubs to play poker cannot be used to justify the provision of what amounts to a commercial poker club.”

He said the decision sent a clear message to club gaming permit holders who seek to offer poker, that they must operate in accordance with their permit or run the risk of losing it.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the club said: “After today’s hearing with Hackney Council in regards to the club licences, we have to inform you that with immediate effect the club has closed.

“All of us here at The International would like to thank each and every one of its members for the superb support over the last four and a bit years.”

Speaking last October, Chairman Barry Martin, said that at the time of establishing the club, they never expected poker to be as popular as it became.

“Casinos use poker as a way to bring players into their establishment, what they try to do is sell them other games like roulette,” said Mr Martin.

“Our private members’ club was set up so people didn’t have to go into a casino-like environment so they can play games of their choice, in a club where they felt safe and not turned into some financial number on a spreadsheet.”

“Just because you don’t list the activity in the initial application it doesn’t mean it’s illegal or not right to provide that to your members,” he said.

“We operated for over two years without a word from the council to tell us we shouldn’t be doing what we were doing, we thought everything was ok, we never thought we were on the wrong side of the law.” he added.