Seay v Eastwood

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLord Wilberforce,Lord Simon of Glaisdale,Lord Kilbrandon,Lord Salmon,Lord Russell of Killowen
Judgment Date28 July 1976
Judgment citation (vLex)[1976] UKHL J0728-2
Date28 July 1976
CourtHouse of Lords

[1976] UKHL J0728-2

House of Lords

Lord Wilberforce

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Lord Kilbrandon

Lord Salmon

Lord Russell of Killowen

Seay (Superintendent Royal Ulster Constabulary)
Eastwood and Another
(Appellants) (on Appeal from the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland)

Upon Report from the Appellate Committee, to whom was referred the Cause Seay (Superintendent Royal Ulster Constabulary) against Eastwood and another (on Appeal from the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland), That the Committee had heard Counsel, as well on Monday the 5th, as on Tuesday the 6th, days of July last, upon the Petition and Appeal of Bernard Joseph Eastwood of 431 Ormeau Road in the County of the City of Belfast and William Laverty of 5 Iris Link, Dunmurry in the County of Antrim, Northern Ireland, praying. That the matter of the Order set forth in the Schedule thereto, namely, an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland of the 27th of November 1975, so far as therein stated to be appealed against, might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, and that the said Order, so far as aforesaid, might be reversed, varied or altered, and that the Petitioners might have the relief prayed for in the Appeal or such other relief in the premises as to Her Majesty the Queen in Her Court of Parliament, might seem meet; and Counsel having been heard on behalf of J. H. Seay (Superintendent Royal Ulster Constabulary), the Respondent to the said Appeal; and due consideration had this day of what was offered on either side in this Cause:

It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen assembled. That the said Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland, of the 27th day of November 1975, in part complained of in the said Appeal, be, and the same is hereby Affirmed, and that the said Petition and Appeal be, and the same is hereby, dismissed this House.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords,


Mr. Eastwood is a licensed bookmaker carrying on business as such at a licensed office in Belfast; Mr. Laverty manages the business. They installed two fruit machines in the premises for use by their customers. The question is whether in so doing they are carrying on in the premises "any trade, profession or business whatsoever except the business of bookmaking". To do so is made an offence by the Betting and Lotteries Act (Northern Ireland) 1957 section 13(1)( a). They were convicted by the Recorder of Belfast and the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.


The validity of the conviction depends upon what is included in the "business of bookmaking". In section 20 of the Act of 1957 we find the following:

"'bookmaker' means any person who whether on his own account or as servant or agent of any other person, carries on, whether occasionally or regularly, the business of receiving or negotiating bets, or who in any manner holds himself out, or permits himself to be held out in any manner, as a person carrying on such business, and the expression 'bookmaking' shall be construed accordingly; …"


There follow certain exclusions relating to pool betting and totalisators. The appellants contend that the operation of the machines is part of their business of bookmaking, a proposition which appears implausible unless this result is produced by statutory enactment.


My Lords, before one attempts to apply the so-called definition, it is necessary to establish the climate, or atmosphere in which it has been given birth.


Legislation against, or controlling, gaming, wagering and betting is many centuries old in the United Kingdom. With only moderate success Parliament has endeavoured to keep up with the enormous variety of these activities which has arisen from the ingenuity of gamblers and of people who exploit them. It is impossible to frame accurate definitions which can cover every such variety: attempts to do so may indeed be counter-productive, since each added precision merely provides an incentive to devise a variant which eludes it. So the legislation contains a number of expressions which are not, or not precisely defined: bet, wager, lottery, gaming, are examples of this. As to these, while sections appear in various Acts saying that a particular activity is, or is deemed to be, within the word, the general meaning is left to be decided by the courts as cases arise under the common law. The process, and I think it a very sound one, is then for magistrates, using their local knowledge, experience of the world and common sense, to give a sensible interpretation of the expressions used, subject to control of their decision by a court itself experienced in deciding this type of question. When, as should rarely occur, higher appellate courts are required to review these cases, they should, in my opinion, endorse decisions which they can see have been reached and confirmed in this way. Refined analytical tools are not suitable instruments in this context.


The definition contained in section 20, on the face of it, calls for just such common sense interpretation as I have described. A bookmaker, it says, is a person who makes or negotiates bets—but what in this context are bets? Are they what a man places with a bookmaker or something else? If the former, the definition may be circular, but at least it conforms with popular belief. If the latter, the definition may have more content, but its scope is completely uncertain. I shall revert to this point. In the search for a common sense meaning, I look first at the Recorder's decision, embodied in the case stated. He describes in some detail the operation of the machines. He points out that a player may win or lose on any single play; that there are odds, according to which the machine is supposed to produce one combination or another, no doubt very unfavourable to the player; that over a period the machine yields a steady profit of about 27 per cent. the amount of which can be adjusted. There is no finding or suggestion that the owner of the machine is responsible for paying the player if the machine does not do so. On these facts the learned Recorder held that by natural interpretation of the statutory words the operation of the machine could not be a bookmaking transaction. He had no doubt that the proprietor could not properly be described as making a book, and even if a user could be described as making a bet when he put his coin into the machine, he could not be said to be making it with a bookmaker.


My Lords, I doubt very much whether, as to this type of legislation, one can carry the argument much further than this. It is possible to take various elements supposed to be essential to a "bet"—an uncertain event, the possibility of loss, the holding of opposite views, an interest in winning or losing—and debate whether all or some of these are present. If I were to follow this process, I would say, for myself, that an essential element necessary for a bet is missing because the player plays against or with the machine, i.e., the stakes provided by other players. The owner does not stake anything: he may provide some initial capital, but he knows—and the player knows— that the owner will get this back plus a fixed profit. The player merely takes his chance of sharing in the 73 per cent. of the stakes put into the machine. But in the end, the determination is a magistrate's decision, to be upheld unless he has misapplied his mind to the question. So far as I am capable of placing myself in his chair, I would reach the conclusion that the appellants in installing...

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16 cases
  • R William Hill Organization Ltd (Claimant) The Horserace Betting Levy Board (Defendant) The Association of British Bookmakers and Others (Interested Parties)
    • United Kingdom
    • Queen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
    • 20 July 2012
    ...not assist me on the question whether a business punter on such an exchange is a bookmaker. 46 The decision of the House of Lords in Seay v Eastwood [1976] 1 WLR 1117 was to a similar effect as the decision in the Luncheon and Sports Club case. A bookmaker had two fruit machines in premises......
  • Phillip Ivey v Genting Casinos UK Ltd and Another
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 3 November 2016, or is deemed to be, within the word, the general meaning is left to be decided by the courts as cases arise under the common law. ( Seay v Eastwood [1976] 1 WLR 1117, 121) 82 As Lord Wilberforce makes clear, the forms of games of chance or skill and chance can be so varied that they de......
  • Re Titan Marketing Gesellschaft; Senator Hanseatische Verwaltungsgesellschaft mbH
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 24 July 1996
    ...9 In my judgment the correct starting point in any given case of this kind is to adopt the approach suggested by Lord Wilberforce in Seay v Eastwood [1976] 1 WLR 1117. This case was concerned with the question whether the playing on fruit machines installed in a betting shop could be said t......
  • IFX Investment Company Ltd and Others v Revenue and Customs Commissioners
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 4 May 2016
    ...fact-finder to find its meaning in a particular context and not seek to arrive at the meaning itself by refined analytical tools: see Seay v Eastwood [1976] 1 WLR 117 at 121 per Lord Wilberforce: Legislation against, or controlling, gaming, wagering and betting is many centuries old in the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Pension Trust: Fit For Purpose?
    • United Kingdom
    • The Modern Law Review No. 82-5, September 2019
    • 1 September 2019
    ...211.46 Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group Pty Ltd vDirector of Liquor Licensing [2012] WASC463 at[22] per Hall J; Seay vEastwood [1976] 1 WLR 1117, 1121.47 Nestle vNational Westminster Bank (1996) 10 Trust Law International 112 per Hoffmann J.48 Although this has obvious echoes of the......

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