The Gambling Commission has highlighted failures to stop children playing on 18+ pub gaming machines after tests on a sample of pubs in England have indicated that almost 90% failed to prevent children accessing Category C gaming machines that have a maximum stake of £1 and a maximum prize pay-out of £100.
Children are not permitted to play these machines in pubs, whose staff are expected to prevent this occurring. There should also be clear signage on view indicating the age restriction.
The failure rate identified in the tests (89%) compares to an average failure rate of 15% to 30% for other age restricted products such as alcohol or tobacco.
Addressing the Institute of Licensing National Conference, Helen Rhodes, Programme Director at the Gambling Commission, said:
We are extremely concerned that pubs across England are failing to stop children playing gaming machines designed for adults. We urgently call on the pub sector to take action immediately to enforce the laws in place to protect children and young people.
We expect to see significant improvement in further tests and will continue to work with licensing authorities to support any action required against those failing to adhere to the requirements.
The Commission has written as follows to the pub industry trade associations outlining its findings and calling for urgent improvements:
Dear Trade Association
Age Verification on Category C (adult only) gaming machines in pubs
In June 2018 the Gambling Commission (the Commission) set out further commitments to protecting children and young people from the dangers of gambling, building on work already underway in this area.
The Commission asked its expert advisers the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) for specific advice on the critical theme of children, young people and gambling. Bringing together existing work and acting on the advice provided by the RGSB, the Commission’s strengthened focus seeks to ensure the right protections are in place to reduce the risk of harm to children and young people.
The Commission called for all those responsible for safeguarding children, to work together with the Commission to address the wide range of issues identified in RGSB’s advice. Amongst the actions identified was the need to address access and exposure to gambling by children and young people.
The Commission has therefore been working in conjunction with licensing authorities across England for the last six months to test the compliance of pubs with the requirement to prevent under 18s playing on Category C machines. These exercises were led by licensing authorities (and trading standards staff) or police officers who had volunteered their resources to work with the Commission.
The interim results are sufficiently concerning that we consider it to be in the public interest to release them immediately. The current failure rate is 89% based on 61 tests. This compares to a pass rate of 70 – 85% for most age restricted products such as alcohol or tobacco. (Source: Serve Legal.)
The pubs tested were a matter for the licensing authority to determine based on their local priorities. The failure rate did not vary significantly between licensing authorities nor between [large] pub companies and independents. The results were uniformly poor.
To summarise the legal position, at s46 of the Gambling Act 2005 (the Act)
(1) A person commits an offence if he invites, causes or permits a child or young person to gamble.
At s284, a licensing authority may remove the exemption (to make gaming machines available on a licensed premises) if:
‘an offence under this Act has been committed on the premises’.
The Commission has published a Code of Practice for gaming machines in clubs and premises with an alcohol licence under s24 of the Act. The Code makes it a condition of the permit that:
‘All gaming machines situated on the premises must be located in a place within the premises so that their use can be supervised, either by staff whose duties include such supervision (including bar or floor staff) or by other means.’
Section 3.1 of the Code sets out good practice in relation to access to gambling by children and young people:
‘Permit holders should put into effect procedures intended to prevent underage gambling. This should include procedures for:
• checking the age of those who appear underage
• refusing entry to anyone unable to produce an acceptable form of identification.
Permit holders should take all reasonable steps to ensure that all relevant employees understand their responsibilities for preventing underage gambling.’
The Commission, the Local Government Association and the Welsh Local Government Association are very concerned about the findings and the clear risks that they indicate to children and young people’s access to gambling. Further tests will be undertaken over the coming months.
We urgently call the industry and their Trade Associations to take the results as a serious indication of the need to improve matters. We expect that the action taken will be reflected in significant improvements in future test results.
As a part of the Commission’s wider focus on children and young people, we will support licensing authorities in their further actions against operators who fail to meet the conditions of their permits and will also not hesitate to amend the Code of Practice for gaming machines in clubs and pubs if that is proved necessary.
Richard Watson, Executive Director Enforcement
Operators of pubs affected by this news may wish to consult the Gambling Commission’s “Quick Guide” entitled “Gaming machines in pubs” in which it draws attention to its Code of practice for gaming machines in clubs and premises with an alcohol licence that particularly emphasises:
- the importance of preventing underage access to machines not suitable for those under 18 (category C and above) and
- the responsibility of the Designated Premises Supervisor to ensure that any machines made available on the premises are supervised either by staff or other means, in order to prevent under-age access on under 18 prohibited machines
Both of these Gambling Commission publications can be downloaded below.