The watchdog has revealed that youngsters use gaming machines in a “concerning” number of pubs despite the expectation that staff prevent under-18s from doing so and the requirement for clear signage indicating age restriction.
The 89% rate of failure to prevent gambling found across a sample of pubs was far worse than the 15% to 30% rate seen in other industries selling age-restricted products, such as tobacco or alcohol.
The Gambling Commission’s findings follow a Government announcement on 13 November that a cap on maximum stakes on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) would be introduced earlier than expected – in April 2019 as opposed to October.
Chancellor Philip Hammond MP had originally announced that the reduction in maximum stake from £100 to £2 would be introduced in October 2019, despite expectations that it would be implemented in April.
However, following pressure from MPs – who have criticised FOBTs for encouraging excessive gambling and exposing people to the risk of social, mental and financial problems that addiction brings – and the resignation of Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, the Government has brought the cap forward in a move that is expected to cost the gambling industry £900m.
Gambling Commission programme director Helen Rhodes told the BBC: "We are extremely concerned that pubs across England are failing to stop children playing gaming machines designed for adults.
"We urgently call on the pub sector to take action immediately to enforce the laws in place to protect children and young people."
British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Brigid Simmonds explained that pubs should offer a "safe and friendly environment for families".
She said: "We have ensured that all of our members are aware of both the BBPA's and Gambling Commission's codes of practice and we are already taking steps to develop a social charter for responsible gambling, for use by licensees and pub companies.
"However, given the importance of this issue we are seeking urgent meetings with the Gambling Commission and local authorities to ensure appropriate action is taken."
UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls added: “Underage play on gaming machines in pubs is wholly unacceptable.
"Our members, and the wider pub sector, understand this and the issue is taken very seriously
“UKHospitality is already working with its members and other trade bodies to develop a social responsibility charter, with bespoke pub-specific messaging; highlighting responsible gaming and the prevention of underage play.
“We will also be writing to the Gambling Commission to seek a meeting at the earliest opportunity.”