No annual betting premises licence fee refunds on betting shop closures

As has been well-publicised, a consequence of implementation on 1 April 2019 of the maximum stake reduction of FOBTs (Category B2 gaming machines) from £100 to £2 is the planned closure of many betting shops across the UK.

William Hill has plans to close about 700 betting shops, GVC (the owner of Ladbrokes and Coral) plans to close up to 900 shops and Betfred has predicted it may have to close between 400 to 500 shops.

In such circumstances, operators may have hoped that such closures would have resulted in refunds of all or part of their betting premises licence annual fees that are payable to the relevant local licensing authority pursuant to the The Gambling (Premises Licence Fees) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007 or, in relation to betting shops in Scotland, The Gambling (Premises Licence Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2007.

However, in its current Licensing Authority Bulletin, the Gambling Commission has expressed the view that licensing authorities have no discretion to refund such annual fees. It states as follows:

Premises annual fee refunds and partial payments

Following a number of queries in relation to premises licence annual fees, the Commission’s view is that no regulations providing for refunds have been made under section 184(4) of the Gambling Act, and so LAs do not have the discretion to refund annual fees for premises licences where the operator ceases to trade during the year.

Our view is that the power to authorise refunds is specifically reserved for the Secretary of State by virtue of section 184(4). Similarly, there is no scope within The Gambling (Premises Licence Fees) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007 /The Gambling (Premises Licence Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2007 for pro-rata payment of annual fees where the premises intends to close within a few months of the fee being paid.

The Commission’s view is that a local authority doing either of these would be acting ultra vires; however, this is not legal advice and only the courts can make a final decision.