I spent several cold hours out in Colchester last Saturday night as part of the Castle Ward night of action. Since I’ve been a councillor, I’ve been out in the town centre on Friday and Saturday nights several times to see what happens there, and I know that the issue of the night-time economy is something that generates lots of opinions in lots of different quarters, so here’s a few of my thoughts on it.

These are based mainly on my experience and knowledge of Colchester and they’re not intended to be definitive pronouncements – I’d welcome any comments or discussion people want to add in the comments. There’s a whole lot of other issues tied up in the night-time economy, but I can’t going into full detail on everything, because this is a blog post and not a book!

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Castle Ward night of action

Following the day of action in the ward on Thursday, there was a night of action in and around the town centre last night. Unlike the day of action, this was something we couldn’t tell people about before because advance knowledge of it happening could have affected the success of it. (It’s hard to catch people who’ve been reported to be persistently breaching regulations if they’ve been forewarned of a visit)

All three of us ward councillors – along with members of the Council’s Licensing Committee – were out during the night, travelling around the town centre with police and licensing officers at different times, getting to see what the town is like throughout the night. We were there to see the way the whole night develops, starting around 9pm and not finishing until after 3am.

I’m going to write a longer blog post about this later (hopefully today) but I wanted to let people know that it happened, and that a lot of issues were dealt with, and several others investigated. The licensing team I was with were expecting to have a lot of work for themselves in the next few weeks as a result, and there are lots of issues that we as councillors need to be following up on and dealing with.

The Gazette have a report on the night here.

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As I’ve mentioned here a few times before, I like to play poker and I’m probably above average as I turn a small profit – not anywhere near enough to live on, but enough to have fun with online. Some of my friends like to play bingo – it’s not something I enjoy, but they seem to have a fun night out playing it.

Beyond the levels of fun different people can get from them, there are two main differences between poker and bingo. The first is that in poker it’s possible for a skilled player to make a long-term profit playing it, while the same can’t be said of bingo – sure, it’s possible to make a profit playing it, and I’m sure there are some people out there who have won more than they’ve lost over the years, but unless you posit a ridiculous level of skill difference (playing only with people who can’t cross off numbers on their card) the expected value of playing bingo is negative.

(That’s not to say that there’s no skill or gambling in poker, of course, but in the long run skill will usually win out over luck – possibly something for another post though, to avoid this one getting sidetracked)

The second difference is that I could head in Colchester town centre now and and go straight into our local bingo club and start playing. The same’s probably true of the town you’re in now – assuming you’re in Britain – but there are only a small number of places where I could go and legally play poker in the same way. Of course, if I really wanted to lose some money, I could go into any one of the number of amusement arcades in most towns, or play the slot machines in various pubs, clubs and chip shops or just wander into one of my several local bookies and play on the machines there. (Though I could also make a regular bet there, and it is possible to make a long term profit betting)

So, the Gambling Act and various other pieces of legislation over the years have made it much easier for me to take part in games with a negative expected value to me, so why is it so hard for me to play a game with a possible positive return? Why isn’t it easier it set up poker clubs in the same way as bingo ones?

At present, the options are to either set up a private members club (The International, for example) or offer poker games under a casino license which means either opening a casino and hoping the demand for negative expected value games hasn’t died off or jumping through all the hoops needed to open a run and casino and then only offer poker at the end of it (as Dusk Till Dawn did, going through several months and several million pounds in the process). I’m not arguing for every vacant shopfront in Britain to be turned into a poker club, just that it be possible to open one so people can have the option – after all, when we have bingo clubs and slot machines everywhere, why should it be so hard to open a club for a game that’s got some skill involved?

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