ON WESTMINSTER PROPOSALS TO INTRODUCE NEW REGULATION CONCERNING BETTING AND BETTING PREMISES AND FOBTs
As I have blogged on previously, the furore surrounding B2 machines (referred to as FOBTs of “fixed odds betting terminals” in the media) continues, and has now culminated in a series of new proposals and amendments to the Gambling Act 2005 under the banner of a policy document entitled “Gambling Protections and Controls”. This paper, published in April 2014 and which can be read here, outlines a series of new measures, some of which I expect will be brought into force around October 2014.
The proposals include amending the English planning law to carve out betting shops from the existing “financial services” category, thus requiring a planning application for change of use; endorsing as part of the LCCP the already implemented “responsibility code” which was introduced by betting operators themselves, require punters to pay over the counter if wishing to stake £50 or more on B2 machines, introduce “account based play” for the machines, introducing a new options screen at the start of play to allow players to set a limit on how much they stake, elevated warnings and pauses in play, and a sort of national self exclusion network. Further work is also proposed in relation to the advertising of gambling, and educational schemes. My analysis of these proposals follows.
As I have consistently stated, whilst the Gambling Act 2005 is a UK law, planning is not and Scotland enjoys a separate planning regime. The paper makes no mention of this. The proposal is to close the “loophole” which allows planning permission for betting shops to be established without a full planning change of use application. Although painted by some as a loophole this is really a result of the stratification which exists under the planning laws themselves, where some types of use can be granted or allowed because the “greater includes the lesser” principle applies. Making this change will allow, it is suggested, greater local say for councils who will be able to torpedo a new betting shop at the planning stage, without regard to licensing. Westminster cannot legislate on this matter north of the border, so for a joined up “UK” approach Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond would need to see eye to eye. Interestingly, s.210 of the Gambling Act says that licensing authorities are not entitled to take planning into account when considering a licence application. This could mean operators securing a licence prior to any planning application has been considered and will lead to interesting debates no doubt.
B2 machines will, under these proposals, now require to display a series of options and warnings to the player. From the punter’s perspective he or she will be offered a series of options about how much they want to spend and how long they want to play for and so on. Whilst in play, warning messages about sensible gambling would flash up on screen. Any player wishing to stake more than £50 would require to do so via an account or at the betting counter. Some have suggested that this cap would have little effect as only 7% of gambles are at or above that level. On the other hand, the industry have complained that this is disproportionate and reactionary, with no evidence to suggest that limits on B2 machines would affect problem gambling, and whislt the Government itself had indicated that further studies were required before a view could be formed on the harm that B2 machines allegedly cause. That research is ongoing, and being carried out by Nat Cen.
One of the more interesting proposals here is for some sort of national “self exclusion” system whereby operators would have to share knowledge with each other on persons whom have self-excluded. At present, self exclusion data is only used within individual operators meaning someone would need to self-exclude from multiple operators, if that person uses more than one. I have concerns about how practical or indeed lawful this sort of national scheme might be. I am doubtful that the law at present would allow the sharing of sensitive personal data of this nature and that data protection laws may need to be altered if this in indeed to be brought forward. This is an issue which has already been raised in Parliament in connection with the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 in connection with online operators, as well as with an EU proposal for a Europe-wide self-exclusion register. I also wonder how the national system will be funded, operated and regulated. I think that there is mcuh work to be done on this before it can be achieved.