It has been reported this week in Adelaide's The Advertiser that the future of pub poker leagues may be under threat in South Australia.
It was reported that the Australian Hotels Association has warned pubs that they are potentially challenging gambling laws by running "cash buy-in" poker games. While many operators run “free” poker games, players can add to their chips by buying drinks and food.
Cash entry games are gaining popularity as the Australian poker community is starting to mature in its desire for poker action, thanks to major local tournaments and increased television exposure.
However it has been reported that SkyCity Casino has asked the State Government to review pub poker games, arguing that they may be illegal.
This notification appears to coincide with police increasing scrutiny on pub games, with detectives attending a tournament in a northern suburbs hotel earlier this month after complaints of unlawful gaming.
On May 5, the AHA advised its 520 member hotels they may be breaching laws by being involved in taking money for gambling. "We believe this arrangement could well contravene the Lottery and Gaming Act," AHA (SA) general manager Ian Horne said. "While there's great appeal – it's an enormously popular game and it's good for business – if there's cash involved there's a level of risk."
In general, pub operators return all entry fees back to players as winning, therefore taking no rake, which they argue prevents any breach of the Act.
"We believe it is absolutely legal, absolutely – we've been in contact with SA Police," said Brayden Haynes, whose company Full House operates tournaments on behalf of the National Poker League. "We feel this is fun, entertaining (and) sport-like and we feel this is a really good social outlet for people."
The National Poker League has over 40,000 South Australian players at 100 pubs and clubs with both "free" and cash-entry games. It offers $25,000 in cash and prizes every ten weeks.
The Advertiser reporterd that SkyCity Casino had confirmed it wrote to the Office of the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner seeking clarification of laws, following a ruling in the Adelaide Magistrates Court last year. The court found the organisers of a tournament at the Italian Club had not breached laws.
More than 100 people were reported for illegal gambling when police raided the Carrington St club on the first night of the planned five-day SA Poker Championships in 2005.
A SkyCity spokesman said, "Since then there has been some confusion over how the unlawful gaming legislation should be interpreted. SkyCity Adelaide has asked the Liquor and Gambling Commission for clarification of the law."
The police Licensing Enforcement Branch confirmed it had recently spoken to a hotel about a poker tournament but was satisfied there were no breaches of the Act.
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