Call for evidence on Category B gaming machines

The Gambling Commission has today published calls for evidence (that will remain open until 16 May 2019), requesting data and views on two separate issues (but linked in the sense of  seeking to prevent gambling-related harms), namely:

  1. Category B gaming machines and player protection
  2. Gambling online with credit cards (on which we have reported separately here).

Category B gaming machines and player protection

The Commission’s call for evidence enables gambling businesses to outline how they will meet the challenges set out in last year’s UK Government Review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures regarding the protections for players using Category B gaming machines. We reported at the time on that Review here and on the Gambling Commission’s reaction to it here.

Insofar as Category B machines are concerned:

  • Category B1 machines, located in casinos, offer maximum stakes of £5
  • In April this year, the maximum stake on Category B2 gaming machines (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) will be reduced from £100 to £2
  • Category B3 machines, sited in arcades, bingo halls and betting shops, offer maximum stakes of £2 respectively but, as the Gambling Commission points out, they do so at up to eight times the speed of play of B2 games.

Explaining its focus on B1 and B3 machines, the Commission states that: “data indicates that the risks associated with Category B1 and B3 machines are broadly similar to the risks with B2 machines at a £100 maximum stake – the reason why the Commission said last year in its advice to Government that it wanted to explore player protection options further. Those options include tracking play, using time and monetary limits and alerts, and communicating messages about gambling safely. The Commission also said it wants to hear about industry efforts to evaluate harm prevention measures”.

It goes on to say:

There are clear incentives for the industry to demonstrate a commitment to enhance the effectiveness of player protections on Category B gaming machines. These include the:

  • potential to use player data to understand patterns of play and offer a more personalised customer experience
  • prospect of changes to stakes, prizes and machine allowances where industry can demonstrate that it can manage the risk of gambling-related harm effectively
  • opportunity to focus on what works and pre-empt more direct regulatory intervention, which could entail mandatory controls or a review of key game characteristics such as speed of play.

Despite this, our recent engagement with industry has highlighted two concerning trends:

  1. Efforts to develop a clear framework to trial meaningful controls have been inconsistent and, in some instances, non-existent.
  2. The risks associated with Category B3 machines has been acknowledged by some, but not all sections of the industry.

There has been some progress, with trials to explore different forms of harm prevention such as safer gambling messaging and piloting of tracked play in a number of gambling premises. However, we have seen little evidence of a clear and coherent commitment to explore the risks associated with gambling on all Category B gaming machines. 

On 1 April 2019, the maximum stake on Category B2 gaming machines (FOBTs) will be reduced from £100 to £2. As a result, Category B3 machines, sited in arcades and bingo halls, will offer the same maximum stake level as B2s but at 8 times the speed of play and without the same level of built-in player protections (speed of play refers to the length of time it takes to complete a game cycle. On Category B3 machines each game cycle must last at least 2.5 seconds, compared to a minimum of 20 seconds on B2 machines. A game cycle starts when a player presses the ‘start button’ or otherwise initiates the game, and ends when all money staked or won during the game has either been lost or delivered to, or made available for collection by, the player, and the start button again becomes available to initiate the next game). 

In our formal Advice to Government on the gambling review, we said that we would consider extending existing Category B2 protections to Category B1 and B3 machines. We reached this conclusion in the light of indicators from player data that the risks associated with B3 machines are similar to the risks associated with B2 machines. 

We plan to undertake further analysis of Category B machine data to improve our understanding of patterns of play. We intend to:

  • review more recent data to evaluate changes in player behaviour before and after the B2 stake reduction. This will help us to identify whether problematic play on B2s has been diverted onto other category B machine
  • explore options to conduct further analyses in the longer term to monitor the impact of player protection controls on Category B machines.

You can express your views by completing an online survey that is accessible here but you can also download the entire consultation document below.

Commenting on both of the calls for evidence, Paul Hope, an executive director at the Gambling Commission, is quoted on the Commission’s website as saying:

We are exploring measures that could help reduce the risk of harm to consumers who use their credit cards to gamble online, and to those who play on all Category B machines. We want consumers, gambling firms and other interested parties to have their say and provide evidence that will help us make gambling safer.

It will be recalled that, nearly a year ago (in March 2018), when publishing its advice to support the Government with its review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures, as we reported here, insofar as the land-based casino sector was concerned, the Gambling Commission made it clear that it:

  • did not support increasing machine allocations in the absence of additional measures to manage the risk of gambling-related harm effectively (such as extending time and money limits from B2 machines to B1 machines, strengthening those controls and participating in a trial of machine play tracking),
  • did not support the National Casino Forum (“NCF”) proposal for higher stake and prize gaming machines (Category B1H) for ten high-end casinos in the Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea boroughs, on the basis that “there would need to be more evidence on the controls that could be put in place to provide these machines in a socially responsible manner and in a way that would substantially restrict their availability”,
  • would not support the NCF proposal to increase the cash insertion limit into a B1 machine from £20 to £50 unless the NCF provides evidence as to how operators would manage the risks that it generates,
  • proposed a change to regulations so that machine entitlements can only be calculated on the basis of multi-player live tables, and
  • did not support a 500 machine cap in 2005 Act Large Casinos, suggesting that the level of any new cap would need to be based on a proper rationale.

At the same time, the Commission recommended no increase in stake for category B3 machines (of the type made available in bingo clubs, AGCs and LBOs) as “that would be at odds with the objectives of this review”.