Gambling law reform may give pubs income boost

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by John Harrington Trade experts hope the Govern-ment's new Gambling Bill could bring customers back from betting shops to use fruit machines in...

by John Harrington Trade experts hope the Govern-ment's new Gambling Bill could bring customers back from betting shops to use fruit machines in pubs. Under a draft bill published last week, pubs will be allowed at least two AWP (amusement with prizes) machines, with a maximum payout of £25 and a maximum stake of 50p. Local authorities will decide the maximum number of machines allowed in each pub. Meanwhile, betting shops will be limited to four machines (following a recent court case), including Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) which now have a maximum pay-out of £500 ­ previously they were limited to £50,000. Pub operators have seen takings from their own AWPs fall since FOBTs started appearing in betting shops last year. Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), said he hoped tighter controls on betting shops would encourage people to use gambling machines in pubs. "It has been a concern that the core [machine] players have been moving to FOBTs in betting shops," he said. "But this gambling is less tightly regulated and so the playing field is by no means level. We look forward to the new legislation addressing all these issues." Nathan Wall, national accounts director for managed house operator JD Wetherspoon, called the bill "positive news". The arrival of FOBTs in betting shops had resulted in fewer people using machines at the company's pubs, he said. "Core users use betting offices. Tighter regulations might make people use pubs some more." But Wizard Inn's national accounts director Eric Keary said "hard-core" gamblers would still use machines at betting shops while payouts in pubs were so low. "I speak to licensees all the time and they say their customers go to gamble at the betting shop. Maybe with the maximum pay-out [in betting shops] coming down to £500 we stand a chance, but I feel there is never going to be a level playing field while pubs have to stick to the lower prizes," he said. The draft bill also requires gambling machines to be housed away from areas catering for children. Signposting and "effective supervision" for machines will be standard licensing conditions. But Bish said this would not mean drastic change for most licensees. "Pubs have always had sight-lines for their machines, so this will not be a deep-seated change," he said. The ALMR urged licensees, who feared that may lose out under the proposed changes, to approach magistrates, as they may be allowed to keep existing machines as part of their grandfather rights. The draft bill will now be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. The remaining section will be published early next year, and then go before Parliament.

Related topics: Legislation

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