Byline: Brendan Carlin and Chris Hastings
SOME of Britain's most popular TV game shows could be forced off the air after regulators launched a probe into whether they constitute gambling.
Producers of Noel Edmonds' hugely successful Deal Or No Deal on Channel 4 have been shocked to be told by the Gambling Commission that their [pounds sterling]250,000 jackpot games could be breaking the law because they do not involve any element of skill.
ITV's Red Or Black?, the [pounds sterling]1 milliona-night game show presented by Ant and Dec, and developed by Simon Cowell, is also understood to have been hit by the investigation.
Meanwhile ITV plans to revive Bruce Forsyth's perennial hit Play Your Cards Right have also been put on ice pending the outcome of the probe.
It is against the law to run non-skill games for money without a gambling licence - raising the extraordinary prospect of producers being jailed if they defy the warning.
Last night, one legal expert said that in order to comply with a licence, Deal Or No Deal could be forced to move to a time slot after the 9pm watershed, it could also face tight restrictions on the type of advertising allowed to be sold in the commercial breaks and the amount of pre-broadcast publicity it could receive.
Channel 4 may then decide it would be simpler to cancel the show, than be constrained by so many restrictions.
The programme, which has been presented by Edmonds since it was first broadcast in 2005, regularly attracts an audience of more than four million in its afternoon slot.
Viewers watch as contestants guess which of 22 identical sealed boxes contains the show's elusive jackpot in what programme makers Endemol say is a contest of 'instinct, gut feeling and luck'.
As boxes are opened, contestants decide whether to accept a cash offer from the mysterious Banker, or play on in the hope of increasing the offer, while running the risk of receiving a much lower prize.
However, a Government source told The Mail on Sunday: 'The Gambling Commission does not seem to think that there is any skill element to the show.
'Even though at the beginning of the show, contestants do not have to stake any of their own money, the argument is that once they've picked a box, which could contain a lot of cash, in subsequent rounds they are in effect gambling with their own money,'
Separately, the Commission is also understood to have raised issues over Red Or Black?, where contestants win [pounds sterling]1 million on the spin of a wheel.
The Commission has told the programme makers that the participants need to show more skill in winning the top prize to escape the need for a gaming licence - which would mean the end of the crucial roulette wheel. Regulators are also said to be concerned about the way the show 'glamorises' gambling.
The Mail on Sunday also understands that ITV is shelving plans to bring back the popular Eighties quiz show Play Your Cards Right, in which prizes are determined on the turn of a card, for the same reason.
Last night the move was met with bewilderment among game show bosses, who argue that rules created to control casinos and illegal betting should not be applied to entertainment programmes.
One senior broadcasting source, who has been fighting the probe behind the scenes, said: 'This is an absolutely ridiculous state of affairs.
'The Gambling Commission has no right to be poking its nose into what are harmless television programmes. How can anyone regard Deal Or No Deal as gambling? It is probably the most innocent show on television. I think its very telling that this programme is aired in 30 different countries but only in Britain has this become an issue.
'You also have to look it from the point of broadcaster. They are already heavily regulated by Ofcom. Why on earth would they …