We have had both the Cheltenham and Grand National Festivals, and the Sandown Gold Cup will soon be upon us.
The queries range from simple ones regarding bookmakers installing themselves in pubs, to race nights and using mobiles to place bets while in the pub.
I also noted a timely press release from the Gambling Commission, deliberately issued the week before the Grand National, on the conviction of a pub manager in Merseyside.
A man who managed a pub in St Helens recently pleaded guilty to providing illegal betting under the Gambling Act 2005. He was sentenced to 100 hours’ unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £930. Significantly, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) also imposed backdated tax of £2,952 and penalties totalling £9,750 on the individual for general betting duty, failure to declare betting income and to submit betting duty returns.
The premises were the now-closed White House pub in the town.
During 2012 it was subject to a multi-agency operation and subsequent investigation involving St Helens Council, the Gambling Commission, Merseyside Police and HMRC. The operation found approximately 700 completed betting slips and a diary containing details of bets placed between 2011 and July 2012. Damning evidence.
Historically there has been a blurred connection between pubs and betting. Since the inception of the Gambling Act 2005 there have been a number of enforcement operations, prosecutions and regulatory action taken against both licensed bookmakers and publicans providing betting illegally within pubs.
For instance, during 2013 a bookmaker in south-west Wales was fined £8,000 for persistently operating betting in the pub, and during 2011 fines totalling more than £6,000 were levelled on a bookmaker in Cumbria.
Certainly, facilitating commercial betting in pubs is providing illegal facilities for gambling and is not permitted. Publicans cannot accept bets on behalf of licensed bookmakers or even just to facilitate customers betting through their own telephone betting accounts. In this instance they are acting as betting intermediaries. Turning to bookmakers, it is illegal for them or their agents to sit in pubs taking bets themselves.
So what is allowed? Many customers enjoy a flutter for fun. Punters in pubs can watch racing on channels provided by the publican. They can fill in their own betting slips, football pools coupons or place bets via their mobile phone, tablets or laptop while sitting in the pub. Bookmakers can place betting slips or football pools coupons in pubs as long as the customer completes the slip themselves and takes it to the bookmaker themselves. But once a publican arranges for the slips to be taken to the bookmaker, they could be illegally facilitating gambling.
Broadly speaking, the Gambling Act 2005 poses few restraints upon betting between private individuals where the betting is not conducted for business. Friends watching their two favourite football teams this weekend can bet between each other, for fun, in pubs. This happens daily in pubs throughout the country. The difference is that private betting between friends is not a commercial endeavour. Once
it becomes commercial it then becomes illegal.
And what of race nights? They are permitted for charitable purposes and can operate as incidental non-commercial lotteries; non-commercial prize gaming; or non-commercial equal chance gaming. Each of the three provisions has different requirements on how the race night is provided and on the amounts that can be staked and won.
There is a less well-known alternative, which is an occasional use notice (OUN), designed for point-to-point racing. In certain circumstances these can be used to allow a bookmaker, licensed by the Gambling Commission, to offer bets and accept money from customers. Before running a race night, seek advice from your local council, the commission or licensing solicitor.
Although I earlier mentioned prosecutions where illegal gambling takes place in pubs, a more effective remedy for councils would be a review of your alcohol premises licence under the crime and disorder objective. This is significantly cheaper and quicker and imposes a lower evidential threshold on the part of the enforcing authority. It would be hard for a publican to ignore the threat to the licence and therefore livelihood.