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Popular Old Street poker club forced to shut

PUBLISHED: 06:45 17 July 2012

A poker tournament in full swing at The International

A poker tournament in full swing at The International

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A popular poker club has been forced to fold after losing its gaming permit once and for all.

The International Private Members Club, which was stripped of the licence in October, has finally closed its tables after losing an appeal at Thames Magistrates’ Court.

The ruling marks the end of a long-running saga that saw the club’s managers test the limits of gambling law.

Regular player Marcus Bernard, 26, who runs a dealer training business, said: “It really is the end of an era. It had the best atmosphere and the best players of any poker club in London.

“It was like a family, everyone was there as friends rather than just to take each other’s money. For lots of people it was a huge part of their lives.”

He added: “People are pretty angry. They feel it’s a classic case of a council patting itself on the back for tackling a nonexistent problem, instead of fixing real issues.”

Many poker pros had earned their stripes at the club before going on to win millions in tournaments across the globe. They include James Akenhead, who scooped more than $1million when he reached the final table of the poker equivalent of the World Cup, the World Series of Poker Main Event.

The club was first opened as the Gutshot card room in Clerkenwell Road, Clerkenwell, in 2004, without any kind of gaming licence. The owners attempted to prove poker is a game of skill rather than chance – and that therefore they didn’t need one.

When their argument collapsed in a high-profile court case in 2008, they reopened in East Road, Old Street, as The International, and acquired a private members’ club gaming permit from Hackney Council.

That has now been revoked because the venue was flouting the conditions by operating principally as a poker room. Under the 2005 Gambling Act, members’ clubs can only provide chance games like poker as long as they are not “wholly or in the most part” their reason for being.

Cllr Sophie Linden, Hackney Council’s cabinet member for crime, said: “This verdict sends a strong message that clubs operating with complete disregard for the law will not be tolerated.”

Matthew Hill, of the Gambling Commission, said: “We welcome this verdict, which confirms that the narrow permission allowing genuine members’ clubs to host poker cannot be used to justify the provision of what amounts to a commercial poker club.”

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