U.K. court upholds Gutshot conviction

Palace Guards at Buckingham Palace, London

In a decision handed down this week, the U.K. Crown Court upheld the conviction of Derek Kelly, former chairman of London's Gutshot Poker Club, for charging participation fees for a game of chance.

Kelly was originally convicted last year of violating the Gaming Act 1968. His offense was hosting Texas Hold'em tournaments at the Gutshot Club in December 2004 and January 2005 and collecting a rake on the games, which British law considered "games of chance."

The judge at the time fined Kelly £10,000 and sentenced him to two years' jail time, though Kelly received an immediate conditional discharge based upon his character. Kelly immediately appealed the conviction, leading to the decision this week.

The appeal was based on several factors. Kelly's defense team suggested that the first judge had ordered the jury to base its decision on the earlier Betting and Gaming Act 1960, rather than the later, more relevant Gaming Act 1968.

The team also submitted to the Court several decisions from courts in Canada and the United States regarding games of mixed skill and chance, such as contract bridge.

The Court upheld the appeal based on its interpretation of the 1968 law, which it said did not distinguish between games that were mostly skill and those that were mostly chance. It also noted that the judge in the original case had properly instructed the jury, and in some regards may have even had them lean in Kelly's favor.

While some media outlets have reported the case as resolving once and for all that poker is a game of luck, the facts of the case argue differently. The judge in the original case noted that the expression "game of chance," as defined in the 1968 statute, was meant to include any game that combined chance and skill.

If the definition of "game of chance" were changed by Parliament, Hold'em - which the Court accepted in Kelly's original case as being approximately 70% skill and 30% chance - could be classified differently.

As of today, Kelly has issued no comment on the court's decision.

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