Are you ready for the reclassification of crane-type gaming machines?
Your gaming machine supplier may recently have been in contact with you regarding a specific range of machines, the regulation of which is about to change. This follows discussions between the Gambling Commission and BACTA, the trade body which represents gaming machine suppliers, regarding a particular type of machine, sometimes seen in pub, bowling, cinema and family entertainment premises. These are machines which have a mechanical arm, or similar type device, which a player directs using controls, to try and select a prize. The machines have a compensator unit which determines how often the machine pays out winnings. The compensator can be set so the machine only pays out at certain intervals, for instance every 50 games. This would mean that when playing the machine, if it has paid out recently, it is unlikely you could win, even if you are the most skilful at manoeuvring the mechanical arm and thus, in principle these games are of chance and a gaming machine rather than a game of skill. Going forward these machines become non-complex category D gaming machines, and will now require a permission to make them available from your local council.
Due to the size of these machines, as crane machines tend to be bigger than a traditional AWP, you tend to see them in larger suburban pubs and within those pubs with family entertainment rooms. If you think you may have one of these types of machines, I suggest you speak to your gaming machine supplier as you will now need permission for them to be made available to the customers.
We have made a number of applications for premises where the machines are located, and local authorities have generally been sympathetic to the reclassification of the machines and the applications have met little or no resistance, other than some applications for higher numbers of machines. Local authorities’ Gambling Act 2005 policy statements sometimes have limits set on applications that can be determined by officers. For instance, some will say that for any permit application which would increase the number of machines by more than 5, the decision must be made by a Licensing Committee at a hearing, rather than by the Licensing Officer. I am aware of some cases where, rather than requiring us to attend a hearing, the Licensing Officer has spoken to the Chairman of the Committee and they have decided to grant the application without a hearing. This is because of the circumstances regarding the reclassification.
These machines have been made available in premises for many years, they will be made available in premises now, and it is only the reclassification that requires applications to be made to councils. As such, they have been pragmatic about those applications and generally dealt with them administratively, rather than at hearings. This approach is applauded and saves both businesses and councils time and money.
Highlighting the necessity to ensure your machines are authorized are recent prosecutions by councils regarding illegally sited machines. You should make sure that you have permission, either a permit or you have notified the council, that you will be making gaming machines available for use. The permissions for the machines are sometimes overlooked. From experience, for instance, during the transfer of the alcohol licence the machines are sometimes missed and either the new licence holder does not notify the council that they will be making machines available for use, or they forget to transfer the Licensed Premises Gaming Machine Permit into their name, alongside the transfer of the alcohol licence. It’s worth checking next time you have a minute.
The real risk, rather than prosecution, is that the council may review your premises licence. Prosecutions are unusual and tend to be in circumstances when there has been a blatant disregard of the regulation of the machines. Reviews are cheaper, quicker and easier for councils and generally more proportionate and effective.
Finally a brief update on the regulation of poker in pubs. The Gambling Commission have recently written to a number of operators of poker leagues, reminding them of the requirements of the Gambling Act 2005. This suggests that some may have been operating poker outside the legal limits. You’ll know that there have been issues in recent years with illegal poker in pubs, either in complete disregard for the limits, or where full attention has not been paid to the conditions. I will not go into the limits now, but you should be aware of the limits on the stakes and prizes and conditions on any poker league played within pubs.