A recent telephone conversation:

‘I’m Mr Blue (not real name), you go after my pubs and I’ll go after yours…’

We have a situation where a very large (cannot name them as they keep sending out threatening legal letters) pub poker league provider has been making fortunes on the backs of pub poker players for years, whilst they may or may not be aware (lawyers made me put that bit in) that the way poker in their participating venues (those venues that are operated by them or by their managers, representatives or ‘franchisees’) are operated illegally. The fact of the matter is that every pub/club poker player knows that we have pub companies, owners, operators, landlords and managers who are all fully aware that it is illegal for players to be charged a fee to take part in a league yet choose to turn a blind eye every week. The players are mostly aware that the way their league operates is wrong, but they are just players who…., well want to play. We know directly that the UKGC (United Kingdom Gambling Commission) are aware that the above is happening and will soon be taking action against those that act illegally.

The nuisance calls started when a franchisee of a very successful money-making-poker-league-operating-machine gave notice to give up their franchise, some of the players in the pubs that the franchisee operated saw this as an opportunity to take a look at what other leagues did and a couple of them chose a small league in the north of England, word spread and more joined the little league, at no point did this little league seek out the ‘Goliaths’ pubs. However this Jolly Giant then flexed its muscles and made a phone call (above) and went on to say

‘do you know how many thousands I spent buying these pubs’

‘But you do not own these pubs, you just do poker nights in them and players can play in whatever league they want’ said the little league man (we will call him David, as in David and Goliath). ‘I am warning you…’ etc. As news spread that the little league actually pays out more than it collects other pubs joined them, then the solicitors’ letter landed. The giant sent minions to the pubs that were leaving and they tried to pour cold water on David’s league posting things like

‘they have only 13 pubs and pay a £3,000 regional prize, you do the math!’

Well, players did the math and more pubs joined! I work with Grassroots Poker League, 18 months ago I noticed the potential of this league, I liked Dave the guy that has put his heart and soul into it, I met the players, the landlords and landlady’s, I went to the regional final, got legless, had a ball and thought…’you know what… this could be the start of something’. Dave and I shared a friendship with one of pokers greatest players, in fact as I am typing this, that player has been shortlisted down to 10 of the world’s greatest professional poker players for inclusion into the World Series Of Poker Hall Of Fame, when he is successful he will be the first European to be inducted into this prestigious group. This player of course is the late and great Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott. The legend lost his short battle with cancer earlier this year, he is missed by many, I miss him and I give his take on pub poker and the big operators below.

Now for most of you this article is already too long, if you do not have the time to read on, rest assured that David will continue and kick Goliaths ass! However, for the six people that may read on it is worth sticking with it.

So, where was I, oh yes, I had gone to see the Devilfish at his house, these meetings usually took a few hours and always followed the same routine; I go in, Mrs Devilfish who is the lovely Ann greets me ‘he’s in the lounge’ she says, I go through ‘hi fat lad’ says the fish, ‘I’m not fat’, ‘hi ugly *u&! then’. He plays me a tune on the guitar, he provides a medley on the piano, tells many bad jokes and after two hours says ‘what do you want? Finally I got to talk to him about the little poker league, the Devilfish had actually met Dave the league guy and liked him and what he was doing. The Devilfish wanted to help out and suggested that I got involved with the league and that together we would do some great things. The Devilfish loved his fans and respected the social poker players, like his good friend Rob Yong the owner and outstanding operator of Dusk Till Dawn Casino & Poker Room they both understood that the social poker player is the lifeblood of poker. In order to keep poker alive it needs liquidity in the live player pool, we need to nurture new players and existing social players and help them find their way to the bigger tournaments. We talked for hours about poker leagues and how they should run, how they should provide a real tournament experience and give players the chance to win through to the majors.

The Devilfish looked at me and said. ‘But it won’t work with these poker league fuckers mate, they have it sewn up, they make fortunes out of the little guy, you need to show the player in the pub that they have been fleeced and sort a proper league out, you need to do a ‘Devilfish poker tour’ and I will go around the pubs and do my stand up, play the guitar and give the guys a few songs’. ‘But they only have 5 hours to play a night’ I responded. ‘Ok f8%k off then baldy’, ‘I’m not bald’ I said knowing what would come next, ‘big nose *u&! then’ the fish said. So I left the Devilfish singing the blues and drove back down south, thinking about what we talked about and I decided to look into the poker league industry more and see where Grassroots could bring value to pub and club poker players. I knew that the big boys in this business made money but I was shocked at how much they made and how little the players could win.

If a big poker league company itself states on its downloadable pdf that it has 1,000 pubs and charges £20 a pub, plus the franchisees put their own earnings into prize funds and when players get to the finals they pay a £10 entry fee and a £5 registration fee and pubs buy tickets to the National Finals and tickets to poker trips, then surely (and I failed my ‘O’ level Maths exam) there has to be way more than £1,000,000 in prize money. Ok, sure there will be admin fees and someone needs to make a few quid, but come on, is it just me or do other players think something isn’t quite right. Poker players are used to paying a registration fee or rake on cash games live and online, which is no more than 10% of the money collected. One of the biggest coups of all is to get players to pay and compete in a tournament that gets them on a trip to a town that holds the biggest poker tournament of all, the WSOP (World Series of Poker), yes Las Vegas folks. Yet when the players get there they take part in a tiny tournament, the smallest that is played in Vegas during this period and if they want to play in the WSOP tourneys players must pay to play in another tournament to win a seat or buy in directly with their own cash. The company is clever with marketing, or is it? They actually state the annual prize fund amount on its own website at over £250,000 (does this include the money paid by players as entry fees?). So actually the math is easy, take the big figure and minus the smaller figure, throw in a lot of player entry fees and how much the franchisees pay towards the prize pools and you get a figure of how much the company makes, now this is not my figure, they provide the components of the equation themselves.

So what does Grassroots do differently? Firstly, it does not fleece the players, it has actually paid out in the last 5 regional finals more money that it has collected, it does not charge the players an entry fee or a registration fee, it has the biggest National Prize pool of a free to play (once players qualify to it) minimum £10,000. Every quarter it sends a player on an all expenses trip to a major international poker tournament with a minimum buy in of €1,100, plus it will be organising a major poker tour where players can qualify in the pub or online. However, the most important point is that Grassroots Poker League operates legally and some others do not. We charge a fee of £20 per venue regardless of how many players play and all of this has been returned to the players with the company adding their own cash on top.

It is illegal to charge players a fee to play in a poker league, yet the vast majority of pubs and clubs do this. For example; players turn up to a pub and pay anywhere between £2 and £5.50 for the privilege of taking part. The players may also play for a cash prize too, so in this example of the £5.50, £3 will be kept by the Tournament Operator (the guy who sets the tables up and runs the game) on behalf of a franchisee and £2.50 will go into the prize pool. Of the £3 that is collected by the TO; he will keep some and hand the rest over to the franchisee who must send 50p per player to the poker league company, put some towards a regional prize pool and keep whatever is left. It is time to put a stop to this.

One of the Minions recently visited one of our pub venues and said ‘come back to the XXXX League’ (actual name of the league has been ommitted as it is also a snack) ‘we will give you a discount to £2 per player per night if you leave Grassroots and come back to us’ said the Minion. ‘But isn’t it against the law to charge the players’ replied the landlady. Minion angles his head to the side, winks and says ‘there is very little chance of the Gaming Commission coming to your pub’. The landlady rang us immediately.Vintage young man making phone gesture

Remember Goliath you started it, but you chose a David that doesn’t give a flying fuck…….call me!


The views expressed in this article are that of the author and in no way does this condone the wearing of handle bar moustaches!