The Gambling Commission has updated its ‘Available for use’ guidance (that can be downloaded below) to make it clear that, for the purpose of calculating the category B gaming machine entitlement in gambling premises, gaming machines should only be counted if they can be played simultaneously by different players without physical hindrance.
In so doing, it warns that “licensees should consider their own product offering alongside our updated guidance. Should licensees fail to address our concerns in this respect, we may take enforcement action. Individual licence conditions, for example, could be applied on a case-by-case basis if we had concerns that a licensee was not addressing this problem”.
Its rationale is explained in a website posting where the Commission states as follows:
Gaming machine entitlements in AGC or bingo premises set out that only 20% of machines can be category B machines in order to ensure a balanced offering of gambling products and restrict harder gambling opportunities.
Machine design has changed in recent years and space-saving gaming machines – in the form of tablets, multi-player units and narrow/in-fill machines – have become available.
However, some of these machines appear to be designed primarily to maximise category B machine entitlements. For example, narrow/in-fill single player gaming machines designed to fit in between full-sized gaming machines have become two-player and more recently four-player machines.
Both variants were within the same size cabinet as the original single player machine, which had a width of approximately 10 inches. Such two and four-player machines are not actually available for use in any practical way by more than one player at a time – ie they cannot be played simultaneously by more than one person. Such narrow/in-fill machines, subject to appropriate spacing, can only be considered to be one gaming machine for the purpose of calculating the number of machines ‘available for use’.
The guidance itself states as follows:
When a machine is ‘available for use’: Updated guidance published 24 October 2019
We consider a gaming machine is ‘available for use’ if a player can take steps to play it without the assistance of the operator. More than the permitted number of machines may be physically located on a premises but the onus is on licensees to demonstrate that no more than the permitted number are ‘available for use’ at any one time.
When is a machine ‘available for use’ in AGC or bingo premises under the 20% regulations?
Licensees are only entitled to count the number of machines that can be played simultaneously by different players without physical hindrance.
The Commission would consider, for example, that a multi-position machine that technically allowed two or more players to play simultaneously but in reality required those players to stand very closely together or adopt unnatural participation positions, to the effect that a second player would be discouraged from attempting to use the machine, could not be classed as two or more machines.
Furthermore, in relation to tablets, licensees should ensure that there is sufficient floorspace in the premises to permit counted tablets to be used simultaneously.
What about machines providing more than one category?
A machine that can operate at more than one category, which is operating at a lower category, does not contribute to the number of machines ‘available for use’ at a higher category until it switches to that category. Licensees must ensure no more than the permitted number are ‘available for use’ at any one time.
What about machines that are networked?
Systems in which a number of machines are networked so that the player can select which game and category they play are permitted but licensees must still adhere to any restrictions on the number of machines at a certain category.
What about Electronic Bingo Terminals (EBTs)?
Electronic Bingo Terminals (EBTs) that offer gaming machine content in addition to bingo content are gaming machines and subject to adherence with the above principles. Licensees are reminded however that an EBT must only allow participation in one gambling activity at a time and should not therefore contain functionality which allows participation in bingo and gaming machine activity simultaneously.