The number of pubs and other alcohol-licensed premises with permissions to make gaming machines available for use has increased. In England, Scotland and Wales, on 31 March 2012, there were a total of 39,591 premises benefiting from the automatic entitlement to one or two gaming machines of category C or D, an increase of 10% from the previous year.
There has also been a 2% increase in the number of licensed premises gaming machine permits (which allow three or more gaming machines of category C or D) with 6,591 in force on 31 March 2012.
Consider these figures when compared to another set of statistics from the Home Office. On 31 March 2012 there were approximately 120,000 on-licensed premises. Not all will have a bar, a requirement to have machines, but the majority will.
There have, however, been steadily decreasing numbers of new applications for gaming machines. There were only 1,005 new licensed premises gaming machine permits issued in 2011/2012 compared to 2,179 in 2009/2010, with similarly falling numbers of notifications by alcohol-licensed premises to benefit from the automatic entitlement. These figures probably reflect the low numbers of new entrants into the licensed trade and that those operators who wish to have gaming machines now have the permissions they require.
When it comes to visits by licensing authorities it’s a bit of a lottery (pardon the pun). During 2011/2012 there were 4,584 visits in relation to gaming made by licensing authorities to premises such as pubs. This represents a significant increase of 43% from 2010/2011. These include pre-planned visits where the licensing authority is checking for compliance with gaming machine permissions, visits following complaints, subsequent follow-up visits and test purchasing visits. Of the 4,584 visits 3,987 were pre-planned compliance visits.
It is immediately clear that there are surprisingly few visits reported to pubs as part of the licensing authority regulatory responsibility for gambling. By far the majority of licensing authorities have recorded no visits to pubs during the period 2009 to 2012.
A handful regularly visit, for example, Barnsley, Basingstoke, Birmingham, Poole, Castle Point (Essex), Wakefield, Eastleigh, Derby, the Forest of Dean, Havant, Hinckley (Leicestershire), Lewes, Redbridge (north-east London), Milton Keynes, Sevenoaks, Southampton and Woking. If your licensed premises are within these council areas, and if you have not had a visit over the previous three years, you can expect to get one at some time in the future.
A small number of licensing authorities apparently blitz compliance and conduct high numbers of visits over a short period, notably Newham (east London) where 600 premises were visited in 2011/2012. This is by far the highest number of visits made by any licensing authority to pubs during the period covered by the statistics. It is more likely that your licensing authority reported no visits at all.
The number of visits following a complaint increased from 181 in the previous year to 272 in 2011/2012. This likely reflects an increased awareness among customers and responsible authorities of their options to report any complaints about gaming machines in pubs.
It is surprising how few visits are reported for test-purchasing operations (where the licensing authority assesses age verification procedures in relation to gaming machines). According to the figures, in 2009/2010 there were only eight visits across the entire country, 15 in 2010/2011 and 47 in 2011/2012. Of the 47 test-purchasing operations carried out in 2011/2012, 46 were within the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Southampton City Council clearly focused on under-18s in 2010/2011 as it conducted 13 test-purchasing visits. Outside the East Riding and Southampton there were only 11 test-purchasing visits to assess gambling, covering three years and 378 other local authority areas.
The surprisingly low numbers of visits to alcohol-licensed premises in relation to gambling in the Gambling Commission report could reflect the fact that local authorities have other things on their minds and that they are not focused on gambling in pubs.
There is clearly a lack of commitment from many licensing authorities on regulating gambling in alcohol-licensed premises. However, we know from experience, from talking to operators who have been on the receiving end of visits and from licensing officers who undertook inspections, that in reality there have been higher numbers of visits to pubs in relation to gambling than have been reported. We also know that the commission is investing in the education of licensing authorities on gambling matters.
As confidence and knowledge of gambling within licensing authorities builds so will the numbers of visits, reported or not.