Illegal poker: unlawful gambling and betting

If poker involving gambling is played outside of a licensed casino, it may constitute an unlawful game under the Criminal Code Act 1899. Unlawful gambling is subject to penalties and can be reported to the appropriate authority.

Section 230A of the Criminal Code provides that an unlawful game means a game of chance, or mixed chance and skill that:

  1. is not authorised under an Act
  2. is played by 1 or more persons (players) who gamble or bet on an outcome of the game for the purpose of winning money or another consideration
  3. has at least 1 of the following characteristics
    1. the game is conducted or played in a public place
    2. the game is played in a place, or part of a place, the occupier of which allows, on payment or money or for other consideration, players to enter and use for playing the game
    3. percentage of the amount gambled or bet is
      1. kept by 1 or more of the players, or another person
      2. not included in the winnings of the players.

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) is the primary agency responsible for administering the Criminal Code.

In order for a poker game to fall within the definition of an unlawful game, the act of gambling or betting has to occur. In this regard, the conduct involves money being bet or gambled on an outcome in a game of which the winners are decided by chance or a mix of chance and skill.

Further, in accordance with the concepts of betting or gambling, the reward for winning a bet is dependent upon the amount of money waged (whether it be via a single hand or consecutive wagers placed on a game). This means that during the course of betting or gambling there is a correlation between risk and reward (i.e. the greater the amount waged, the higher the winnings payable).

While all enquiries or complaints are assessed on a case-by-case basis, any person conducting a poker tournament on licensed premises should seek their own legal advice prior to conducting the game or tournament to ensure that they fully comply with legislative requirements.

However, in general terms providing there is no gambling or betting involved:

  • entry fees or buy-ins are permitted provided there is no gambling or betting with money or other consideration
  • entry fees to enter the venue may be charged by licensed premises
  • poker tournament prizes are not prohibited but should be stated in the terms and conditions of the tournament.

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