The International’s licence revoked by Hackney Council for playing too much poker

The chips are down for a private members’ club in Hoxton, whose licence was revoked by the council for allegedly operating as a large scale poker venue – but they have vowed to fight the decision in court.

The International Private Members Club in East Road 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 that 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 town hall’s licensing sub-committee cancelled the club’s gaming permit and withdrew its premises certificate, claiming they were showing a “disregard” for the conditions.

But Chairman of the club, which has 11,000 members and is run by a committee of 12, Barry Martin, said that at the time of establishing the club, they never expected poker to be as popular as it became.

“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.

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“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.

“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.”

While the appeal is pending, members can continue playing games but no alcohol can be sold.