In the Keynote Speech at the Institute of Licencing Conference on 17 November 2022, Sarah Gardner, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Gambling Commission, called on Local Authorities for their assistance in identifying non-compliance by operators of gaming machines. This call to action in light of non-compliance already identified by the Gambling Commission, signifies an increased risk of enforcement action against operators who are found to violate gaming machine rules.
The 80/20 Rule in adult gaming centres and bingo premises
Known as the 80/20 rule, section 172 of the Gambling Act 2005 (the Act) states that adult gaming centres and bingo premises must restrict the number of "high stake - high prize" Category B gaming machines to 20% of the total gaming machines available to play. Ms Gardner stated that the Gambling Commission is aware that this rule is not being followed.
Ms Gardner drew particular attention to the use of "in-fill" machines that are placed between existing machines and can realistically only be played by one person but are counted by the operator as two or more machines. The impact of this is that the percentage of gaming machines available is artificially altered, contrary to the requirements of the Act and guidance issued by the Gambling Commission.
Ms Gardner also raised concerns that operators were selectively powering their machines due to increasing energy prices, and in doing so were at risk of violating the 80/20 rule. The same concerns were also raised by Ian Angus, Director of Policy at the Gambling Commission, in his speech at the Bacta Annual Convention on 24 November 2022, who confirmed that the Gambling Commission would not be amending its 'available for use' guidance and said "adherence [to the rules] … is essential. If we see compliance failings … we will act".
Test purchasing and age verification in pubs
Ms Gardner called for feedback from Local Authorities following inspections to ensure that children are being prevented from playing Category C gaming machines in pubs. Statistics from a joint piece of work between the Gambling Commission, local police and local authorities throughout England and Wales in 2019 showed that 84% of pubs were failing to prevent under-18s from using these machines during test purchasing. This statistic has improved from 2018, when the figure was at 88%, though both figures reflect a high fail-rate. Ms Gardner reminded local authorities that they have "primary responsibility" for regulating gaming machines to ensure compliance with age-verification.
These speeches indicate that gaming machine operators can expect to see increased scrutiny by licensing authorities during inspections, reporting of issues by licensing authorities to the operator and the Gambling Commission, and enforcement action in the event of any breaches. We therefore recommend that:
- AGCs and bingo premises review their operations to ensure that "in-fill" machines are being allocated correctly and energy saving plans and other cost saving measures are executed in line with the Act and applicable guidance; and
- Pubs review their age-verification policies and procedures (taking into account the Social Responsibility Charter for Gaming Machines in Pubs issued by the British Beer and Pub Association in September 2019) and ensure that sufficient staff training is in place to enable those policies to be implemented successfully.