DCMS approves WP actions to modernise land-based gambling

DCMS Select Committee to investigate UK gambling regulation
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The UK government will proceed to relax and revamp the rules related to operating gambling venues, with a view to improving customer safeguards, modernising competition, and keeping pace with wider consumer changes.

DCMS has published its response to the consultation on ‘measures related to land-based gambling’ as proposed by the Gambling Review’s White Paper.

Regulatory oversight of the White Paper’s proposals saw the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) launch a public consultation on proposed land-based gambling measures, rules, and changes, running from 26 July to 4 October 2023.

For gambling venues, the government seeks to eliminate inconsistencies, as licence holders operate under the two separate regimes of the Gaming Act 1968 and the Gambling Act 2005.

Headline measures will see the Gaming Act of 1968 amended to increase the number of gaming machines allowed in venues that meet the size requirements of ‘small casino criteria’ as defined by the 2005 Gambling Act.

For smaller venues (500-1500 sqm) licensed under the Act 1968, allowances for category-B gaming machines will be extended from 20 to 80 machines per premises licence. Rule changes for smaller venues will apply a new machine limit based on a sliding scale considering the gambling area, non-gambling area, and machine-to-table ratio – (scale measures detailed on the below table).  

Venues opting for the increased allowance must align their fees with those of the 2005 Gambling Act, whilst those preferring to retain the current limit can remain under the 1968 Act regime.

New rules will standardise the machine-to-table ratio allowed in casino venues to a fixed 5-to-1 model, a provision needed as previously no ratio was determined by the 1968 Act. 

To operate a table gaming area, venue requirements will be lowered from 500 sqm to 250 sqm. Rule exceptions will apply for licences opting to remain under the old regime.

SBC News DCMS moves forward on action plan to modernise UK gambling venues   

For bingo and arcade premises, changes will amend 80/20 restrictions “to enable operators to have greater commercial flexibility over their product offer of Category B, C, and D gaming machines”.

The 80/20 rule will be amended as part of a “modernisation to support the recovery of the arcade and bingo sectors following the significant commercial challenges experienced in recent years resulting from COVID-19 and rising energy costs”.

The third segment of proposals will allow the direct use of debit card payments on gaming machines as a statutory requirement on licences.

DCMS noted that although an overwhelming majority of respondents supported the measure, feedback varied widely on the frequencies for when account verification should occur, the use of chip-and-pin on machines, and the maximum transaction.

Moving forward on cashless payments, “the government proposes that account verification should be required on each transaction, in line with the majority of responses to these questions. The proposal will be taken forward by the government via secondary legislation”.

Meanwhile, transactions on cashless payments made on gaming machines will be limited to £100, proposed to the government for secondary legislation.

All gambling venues will be required to introduce 18+ age verification on cash-out of Category-D slot machines. Stricter enforcement on ID verification “will make it a criminal offence to invite, cause, or permit someone under the age of 18 to use these machines”.

Adhering to stricter venue standards, operators should “conduct and report on the outcomes of voluntary test purchasing to the DCMS, working with relevant trade bodies and operators to assess the feasibility and reporting frequency of this proposal”.

Final initiatives see the government increase maximum premises licence fees which can be charged by local authorities by 15%. The increase will support stricter enforcement of “administrative gambling duties on a cost recovery basis”.

On licence fees, DCMS noted that licensing authorities had advocated for a fee increase of 30% in contrast to gambling operators proposing a 10% increase. 

The government believes that increasing premises licence fees by 15% is proportionate for licensing authorities of England and Wales. Premises licence fees in Scotland are set under different regulations and will be considered separately by the government of Scotland.

Concluding its response, the government noted the evolving dynamics of the sector “since the Gambling Act of 2005. The characteristics of land-based products have substantially improved since the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005. 

For example, safer gambling functionality is now available and widely used on many gaming machines. This is in addition to improvements in monitoring and staff supervision of customers. However, we recognise that a minority of customers do experience gambling-related harm and that it is necessary to have safeguards in place to protect customers.”

SBC News DCMS moves forward on action plan to modernise UK gambling venues   
John Bollom: Bacta

Bacta, the trade body for the British amusement and gaming machine industry, welcomed the changes to modernise land-based gambling rules. John Bollom, Bacta President, stated: “This is a good day. The Minister is to be congratulated for creating the conditions which will allow the land-based sector to go forward.

“The progress achieved is a testament to the hard work of Bacta and our members in making the case for reform. I would like to thank all the Bacta members who have helped in this campaign which has taken four years.

“We hope that Parliament will give a smooth passage to these proposals so they are passed into law before the General Election. Bacta will actively engage with Gambling Commission officials to ensure the introduction of cashless play in 2025.”