Anyone who has played darts may know that it requires a high level of skill to get good scores consistently. If one is still not convinced that the game of darts does not involve skill, then watching a darts tournament will be a convincer.
In England, it’s legal to bet on games of skills in places where alcoholic beverages are served, but the law prohibits betting on games of chance. Since darts was in its infancy during the start of the twentieth century, several people were not sure whether darts is a game of skill. So the legality of betting on darts in pubs and inns was in question.
Was darts a game of chance or a game of skill?
There is an apocryphal (or perhaps real) story wherein someone answered that question once and for all before the court.
One day in 1908, Jim Garside, the landlord of Leeds’ Adelphi Inn was summoned before the local magistrate. He was called to answer a charge of permitting people to bet on darts in his inn.
Garside has to show to the court that darts is a game of skill to not get in trouble. So he called the local darts champion William “Bigfoot” Annakin to do a demonstration. Annakin then hit every number on the dartboard the court called proving that the game of darts is not a game of chance. Case dismissed.
This anecdote has many variations. One popular version says that Annakin was the owner of Adelphi Inn and thus, was the one charged. Other versions involve sensationalized tales of court drama and incredible darts demonstrations. For example, one author wrote that Annakin hit three consecutive treble twenties as a show of great skill. The magistrate was so amazed and exclaimed, “This is no game of chance. Case dismissed!”
Annakin’s grandson explained in 1968 that there wasn’t any big spectacle in the court during the hearing of the case unlike what most of the anecdotes told us:
My grandfather was not a publican but the best darts player around at the time and the landlord of the Adelphi got him to go to court to prove darts was a game of skill. The J.P’s [Justices of the Peace] asked him to place the darts in selected numbers and he duly obliged, proving it was a game of skill.
We may never know if this case ever happened. Aside from the story told by Annakin’s grandson, there is no other evidence that supports the claim. The case was not reported in any newspaper published in 1908. Furthermore, there’s also no court record of the case since the Leeds Magistrate Court’s records from January 1908 to December 1911 were all lost.
Patrick Chaplin, 108! Fascinating Darts Facts (2012)
Arthur N. Taylor, Played at the Pub: The Pub Games of Britain (2009)