Low-level gambling is the way forward

Related tags Gambling in the united kingdom Gambling

This weekend the new gambling laws take over, which will affect both pubs and clubs. Of more immediate impact for the pub landlord than the AWP...

This weekend the new gambling laws take over, which will affect both pubs and clubs. Of more immediate impact for the pub landlord than the AWP machine situation, about which I wrote last week, may be the relaxation on games of chance, including both poker and bingo.

These games may start being played in the pub from day one without the need for any special permission or licence. The Gambling Act 2005 and the regulations have deregulated low-level gambling of this type, as long as certain conditions are met. There is also a strict limit on stakes and prizes, which could be critical for those running pubs.

The exemption applies to equal-chance gaming only - no banker's games and all the players equal - and there is strictly no fee to be charged by the landlord for participants, nor any deduction from stakes or prizes. It's the adult customers who play the games; all the licensee has to do is to ensure the limits are applied.

What are the new limits? Well, the maximum that can be staked by any player on any one game of chance, except the traditional games of dominoes and cribbage, is set at £5. This applies to all types of games, including bingo which in the past has not been widely allowed in pubs. The bingo limits are separately mentioned in the Act itself, with a maximum for either stakes or prizes set at £2,000 in a week.

If you exceed either of these limits, then you move into a separate licensing system with the Gambling Commission and must technically advise them immediately you do so. It is best to have a system in place to check on this, although weekly OAP bingo sessions with a fixed number of cards and stake levels should not cause too much concern.

Poker is treated differently from all other games in the regulations. The maximum that anyone can win in a game of poker is £100 and the total amount staked in any one day (midday to midday, incidentally) is also £100. It does not take a maths genius to work out that small-stake poker is the only viable option here, or else you will reach the overall limit by 6pm and not be very popular with the late arrivals!

Much play has been made of the Codes of Practice which have been published in relation to gaming activities. These do impose new obligations, but it is difficult to see how problem gamblers can reasonably be identified in low-level gaming situations.

There is in any event a prohibition on participation by those under 18, including bingo. The main precaution to be taken by those operating pub and club premises is to ensure that the cash limits are not breached, and as I have already pointed out on this page, this is yet another time-consuming responsibility for those behind the bar. It cannot be that the law requires gaming of this kind to be permanently supervised by a member of staff, whose job it is to count the "pots" and the stakes, all for no financial benefit to the landlord!

At the end of the day, who is responsible? In terms of breaching the Act, it will be the premises licence holder, not the designated premises supervisor or the staff. The licensing authority can suspend or restrict gaming on the premises if the conditions have been breached. In the case of high turnover bingo, there is a specific offence for which the licence holder could be prosecuted and fined. The moral is to keep the gambling at a low level and explain the limits to your customers as soon as you can.

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