Back in 2019, the Gambling Commission released details of test purchases that had been conducted of 170 pubs in England and Wales. The results showed 84% of the premises were failing to prevent under 18 year olds from playing Category C gaming machines (it is illegal to allow anyone under the age of 18 to play Category C machines even if they are accompanied by an adult.)
This is in stark contrast to the pass rate for alcohol sales which, according to the Gambling Commission article at the time of the publication, was between 70% to 85%.
Further, at a recent Local Government Association conference in February 2023, Sarah Gardner, deputy chief executive at the Gambling Commission, re-highlighted these pre-pandemic figures describing them as ‘shocking’.
Test purchasing importance
She said: “I think we can all agree, in any regulated industry, an 84% fail rate is a cause for alarm. I really want to stress the importance of test purchasing and would ask that if gambling test purchasing isn’t something you’re already prioritising, that you build this into your work for the coming year and share those results with us.”
This statement from the Gambling Commission emphasises how important they take age verification and echoes their 2019 call for action for pubs to take age verification as seriously for gaming machines as they do for alcohol sales.
Here are a few top tips to ensure your premise is undertaking all its responsibilities when it comes to machines in pubs:
- Ensure you have the correct number and type of machines at your premises along with a copy of the relevant permit available on site.
- Supervision of machines is requisite and non-negotiable. Machines must be located in such a way that they can be supervised by staff (whose duties include said supervision) or by other methods such as monitored CCTV. This is important as correct supervision will help to prevent under 18’s attempting to play on the category C machines.
- Display notices nearby the machine advising customers that the machines are for over 18’s only and any underage customers attempting to play on them will be doing so illegally.
- Have a copy of the Gambling Commission “Code of practice for gaming machines in clubs and premises with an alcohol licence” to hand at your premises. This sets out the conditions that you must comply with regarding the location and operation of your machines as well as good practice points that the Gambling Commission considers should be implemented.
- Undertake training with your staff on how to challenge customers who they might believe be using machines underage. This might be difficult if the premise is busy, but staff should be reminded of the importance of proactive challenging.
- If there is a successful challenge, keep a log of this in the refusal log. Successful challenges show to the licensing authority and Gambling Commission that the premise is operating compliantly.
- Lastly, don’t forget that the Gambling Act 2005 provides rights of entry and inspection to authorised persons, which includes Local Authority licensing staff, in respect of premises licensed for alcohol. The Gambling Act 2005 permits an authorised person to:
- Inspect any part of the premises;
- Question any person on the premises;
- Require access to any written or electronic record which relates to the reason for entry ,such as requesting to see a copy of the Licensed Premises Gaming Machine Permit (LPGMP); and
- Remove or retain anything if they reasonably believe that it is evidence of an offence being committed under the Gambling Act 2005, or a breach of a term or condition of a licence issued under the Act
Gaming machines in pubs through permits are a benefit that many premises have across the country, but with permission comes responsibility. The licensing authority has broad enforcement powers from varying permit number provisions to revocation or potential prosecution for permitting underage individuals to gamble.
It is evident that over the coming months licensing authorities are going to be hot on compliance with age verification requirements and making unannounced test purchasing visits on many premises. Make sure your premises is the shining light, and not the scapegoat.