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I have for several years operated a website on which enthusiasts can play a niche boardgame against one another. The boardgame in question has recently been the subject of a Kickstarter campaign for a reprint with various bells and whistles; the company running the Kickstarter campaign, and marketing the new edition of the game, has got in touch with me asking me whether I would be willing to collaborate in promotional activities for the launch, to raise the profile of the new edition of the game among the site's userbase.

One of the proposed activities is a knockout tournament, the winner (or winner and some runners-up) of the tournament to receive prizes in the form of a copy of the Kickstarted product. There has been discussion of also giving a cash prize to the winner of the tournament, in addition to the copy of the game. I am unsure whether in order to run this activity I would require a UK "casino operating licence". I consulted this page and my concerns are primarily with the paragraph about halfway down the page, headed "Is the competition gaming?":

If a skill competition involves "playing a game of chance", it will be gaming – and so require the appropriate licence, usually a casino operating licence – whether or not any payment is involved. A game of chance includes a game involving elements of both chance and skill (and even if the chance element can be eliminated by superlative skill) other than a sport; it no longer matters whether there are any other participants. The key questions here are probably whether the competition involves "playing" a "game"; the pre-Gambling Act 2005 case law is likely to be relevant in deciding this.

Details which may or may not be relevant:

  • The board game in question is primarily a game of skill, but does have elements of chance, in that (for example) card draws can affect a player's available moves. As such, it appears to fall under the definition of "playing a game of chance" as given in the quoted paragraph.
  • There is no charge for registering on the website or for playing games. There would be no charge for entering the tournament, if it were to go ahead.
  • I am the owner and operator of the website. I live and work in the UK and am a British citizen.
  • The website is a .com domain. It is registered through a US hosting provider, and hosted by the same company. I understand that the server is located in a US data centre.
  • The company that is running the Kickstarter campaign, and is paying for my time and would be paying for the tournament prizes were it to go ahead, is based in Canada.
  • The website is not a profit-making operation, but I am receiving compensation (on an informal basis) from the company for running promotional activities.
  • If a "casino operating licence" is indeed required, then the contest cannot go ahead, as even the lowest "fee category" detailed on this page is prohibitively expensive.
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To begin with, if any part of the operation is to occur in the UK, it must comply with UK law, including each individual jurisdiction of it. That will include a gaming license if one is actually required.

Having said that, board and card games are not usually considered casino games unless typically played in a casino, and playing them is not usually considered gambling.

Parts of the website linked explain this further. In particular, you have an apparent expectation that "the skill requirement will either deter a significant proportion of potential participants from entering or prevent a significant proportion of entrants from receiving a prize".

There is some ambiguity over the inclusion of random elements, and therefore whether this game amounts to a game of chance per the definition and descriptions given.

However, it would be very surprising if this competition did require a license, but to avoid doubt, you should consult a lawyer licensed in that jurisdiction, preferably with some specialty in gambling law.

  • I assume that by "the website linked", you mean to refer to out-law.com, the first of the two websites I linked. The language you quoted is from a part of the page that dicusses whether a given competition is a "lottery". I am satisfied that the proposed competition is not a lottery; in particular, because there is to be no payment to enter. I am concerned with whether the proposed competition is "gaming", which according to the page is legally distinct from being a lottery. The language you quoted does not pertain to whether a competition is "gaming". – Hammerite May 31 '17 at 21:05

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