Pub bingo: The legal issues

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags License Gambling in the united kingdom Gambling commission

Bingo: Will Greene King's appeal succeed?
Bingo: Will Greene King's appeal succeed?
You may remember back in May 2014 our article about the potential for licensed bingo in pubs.

You may remember back in May 2014 our article about the potential for licensed bingo in pubs.

We mentioned Rileys Snooker Clubs, which holds a bingo operating licence, granted by the Gambling Commission, and bingo premises licences, granted by local authorities; together these allow Rileys to operate commercial bingo within its clubs.

We also told you about an application to the Gambling Commission, made by Greene King, also for a bingo operating licence. Greene King’s application was refused by the Gambling Commission.

Greene King appealed and the hearing reached the first tier tribunal last week. Commercial bingo operators, such as Gala and Mecca, can offer unlimited stake and prize form of the traditional paper-based game, or electronically, on tablets or terminals.

Licensed bingo operators can also provide unlimited numbers of category D gaming machines, which are the low stake and prize variety, such as pushers and cranes and the £5 prize AWPs, along with unlimited category C machines, with a stake and prize of £1 and £100 respectively.

They can also provide category B3 or B4 gaming machines with a maximum jackpot of £500 on the B3 machine. The proceedings have shed light on the Gambling Commission’s reasons for refusing the Greene King application.

Interestingly, the Gambling Commission Panel was satisfied Greene King was fit and proper to hold a bingo operating licence. The panel was satisfied as to the suitability and competence to offer licensed bingo.

In reaching the decision, it assessed the ownership of the business, integrity of the individuals who were involved in the proposed bingo, their criminal backgrounds, and their competency and ability to uphold the licensing objectives (which under the Gambling Act 2005, can be summarised as crime and disorder, fair and openness, and the protection of children and the vulnerable).

However, the commission had concerns regarding the development of commercial bingo in pubs, which are not dedicated gambling premises. The commission was concerned that the provision of high-stake bingo and high-stake and prize gaming machines in a pub had the potential to offend the licensing objectives of ensuring that gambling is fair and open, and protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling.

The panel referred to “scalability”, a concern that permitting the application could lead to thousands of applications by similar pub operators and that, as a matter of policy, it should take a precautionary approach.

Effectively, the Gambling Commission has made a policy decision that commercial bingo should not be played in pubs. Although it agreed there is nothing in the Gambling Act 2005 to prevent pubs obtaining operating licences and bingo premises licences, they are concerned the floodgates would open and we would see hard gambling within non-gambling pub premises.

The pub environment was of concern as the commission described it as one primarily for the supply and consumption of alcohol, which creates the wrong environment for gambling and high-stake gaming machines — so it refused the application.

It goes without saying that Greene King disagreed with the Gambling Commission’s position. It argued that there is nothing in the Gambling Act 2005 to prevent a pub operator from obtaining an operating licence and bingo premises licences, and providing commercial bingo and gaming machines within its pubs. Indeed this is correct.

There is nothing specific within the Gambling Act 2005 that prevents commercial bingo in pubs. Greene King went on to say that the Gambling Commission did not have the power in the Gambling Act to make a decision of this nature, and that the decision was a leap too far.

Greene King’s position is that it is for Parliament to decide whether there should be commercial bingo in pubs and it had done so when enacting the Gambling Act 2005 (the Gambling Commission’s response to this is the Parliament did not envisage bingo, of this nature, in pubs). Greene King also referred to a lack of evidence to support the Gambling Commission’s decision.

It is true that commercial bingo has been provided in holiday parks, snooker clubs and working men’s clubs for many years. There are more than 200 premises of this type providing commercial bingo, mixed with alcohol, and the Gambling Commission provided no evidence of problems within these premises to support its decision.

We are expecting a decision in the next month, but this will not be the end of it. The Gambling Commission is currently consulting on changes to the conditions attached to operating licences.

It is asking for views on the provision of commercial bingo and high-stake and prize gaming machines in pubs and clubs and for concerns about commercial bingo in these premises to be addressed.

Visit, the debate ends on 31 October.

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