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Top Tips – Calling it on Bingo

Can I play bingo in my pub?

You may remember previous articles on Greene King’s application to the Gambling Commission to facilitate bingo in its pubs. The Gambling Commission lost the first appeal and just recently, on 8th October, the Commission’s second appeal was heard by the Upper Tier Tribunal.

We do not expect a decision for some weeks, but what could this mean for pubs?

All alcohol licensed premises are permitted to provide bingo, and can do so without an authorization, permit or licence. Customers can play bingo for cash or prizes as equal chance exempt gaming. The exemption applies because the premises hold an alcohol licence and there are limits and conditions on the games playing.

The principal conditions are:

  • there can be no charge for participating, nor a charge, levy or deduction from the stakes or prizes;
  • all the money staked by the players must go back to the players as prizes;
  • linked games across premises are not allowed;
  • under 18’s cannot participate

The first limit is that the maximum amount a player can spend on bingo cards per game is £5.

The DPS becomes the ‘Gaming Supervisor’ and must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the limits are adhered to, including that the prizes are low level.

A Code of Practice, published by the Gambling Commission, applies to the bingo and includes best practice advice on age verification, the equipment to be used, and maintaining records of the games played, numbers of players, and amount staked, to ensure that the individual and daily limits are not exceeded.

For bingo the maximum aggregate stakes or prizes for a single premises cannot exceed £2,000 in any week (you can actually go over the weekly limit once but then you must inform the Gambling Commission and if you do it again you are committing an offence and you could be liable to a serious fine or risk to your premises licence).

There is no gaming machines entitlement under exempt gaming, instead pubs use the automatic entitlement to 1 or 2 gaming machines or apply for a licensed premises gaming machine permit. These both permit category C or D gaming machines and generally in low numbers.

Greene King offer this type of exempt gaming bingo in their pubs, but wanted to offer commercial bingo. If the Upper Tier Tribunal find in favour of Greene King, and they obtain bingo premises licences, this would mean they could charge a participation fee for the bingo and provide greater numbers of, and higher stake and prize, gaming machines. There would also be no limit to the bingo stakes and prizes, as there is with exempt bingo. With an operating licence and bingo premises licence a pub could also:

  • provide unlimited numbers of category D gaming machines (these are the low stake and prize variety, such as pushers and cranes and the £5 prize AWPs);
  • provide unlimited category C machines, with a stake and prize of £1 and £100 respectively;
  • provide category B3 or B4 gaming machines with a maximum jackpot of £500 on the B3 machine.

So we await the appeal decision, however, that is unlikely to be the end of it. If the Commission does not get the decision they desire they have already said they will seek to restrict bingo and gaming machines in pubs through alternative means, and may even ask the DCMS to make changes to the Gambling Act 2005. So watch this space.

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