Chris Rees-Gay and Amanda Usher had the pleasure of attending the first in person Institute of Licensing Gambling Conference post Covid on 06 October 2021.
A good turn out in the Grosvenor Casino in Manchester, speakers included representatives from the Gambling Commission, GamCare, a Local Authority and the industry. It was lovely to see everyone together in real life again.
First up GamCare took us through the relatively new Safer Gambling Standard and its pros and cons for both operators and local authorities. An interesting idea, and one which some operators have already invested in, however not one without problems. At the cost of the operator, GamCare will assess the practices and procedures of said operator before deciding whether to give it a seal of approval. A useful marker for local authorities when inspecting premises, however not accredited or approved by the Gambling Commission. Concerns were raised about the potential issues, including the costs involved and the actual benefit to such a sticker in the window.
GamCare do have some extremely useful resources for both operators and local authorities, including statistical data of problem gamblers and self-assessment tools (https://www.safergamblingstandard.org.uk/).
Concerns were also raised as to the financial viability of such a venture for many operators, particularly independents. Between the costs of the assessment itself, and the increased RET contributions, many were worried about operators being marked down for not having the stamp of approval.
A representative from a local authority then provided invaluable insight into their experiences of handling contested gambling premises applications. Faced with an application they felt was inadequate, the local authority discussed the trials and tribulations of what they described as the complexities of gambling applications.
The general feeling in the room from the representatives of various local authorities is that contested gambling application are rare beasts… this is certainly not the experience of Woods Whur!
For this particular application, the council felt under a great deal of pressure due to the lack of information provided by the operator, with no operating schedule (unlike in alcohol licensing), basic plans (in accordance with the legislation) and no pre application engagement from the operator.
The Gambling Commission gave a handy summary of the self-exclusion scheme, as well as stressing the importance of customer interaction. The need for robust and workable policies and procedures is now more important than ever, with the majority of current reviews being based, or at least including, customer interaction and responsible gambling failings. The most useful titbit to come from the Gambling Commission is their current opinion of thresholds for customer interactions, being that they are nearly always too high and intervention is happening too late.
Customer interaction policies and procedures must be outcome based to be effective and they must be adhered to. As always- recording is key and this was reiterated. If in doubt; write it down.
The Gambling Commission is struggling for resources, as the industry is aware, and both local authorities and operators are missing their physical presence across the country. It is hoped the increased application fees will help to alleviate some pressure and provide the Commission with some much needed additional resources.
The Gambling Commission also indicated they will be reviewing and updating the inspection guides (https://bizgateway.org.uk/business-support/business-regulation/gambling-commission/gambling-commission-assessment-templates/).
The open discussion, which included a panel made up of all of the speakers, was of particular interest. The Gambling Act review is of course at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and a great deal of discussion ensued regarding the possibility of a fourth licensing objective, namely public health. First brought up by the Local Authority early on in the day, many felt that input from their public health teams would be valuable, both when dealing with applications and for contested hearings. Also discussed but to no avail was the issue of gambling related training and the Gambling Commission’s reluctance to accredit, approve or indeed acknowledge any training courses. The operators are left to fend for themselves, which is particularly pertinent given the recent treatment of the PML holders at Caesars.
A legal round up was provided with particular focus on affordability and the upcoming review. It is always interesting to note what sort of problems are felt across the board, and at the moment the biggest problem for everyone is the issue of affordability. It was pointed out that if affordability becomes any more of an issue, gambling will be the only leisure activity for which a regulator can dictate how much a customer is allowed to spend.
The Gambling Act review is naturally capturing the industry’s imagination at the moment, with questions being posed as to which direction it might go in. A complete overhaul? Some tweaks here and there? Almost unanimously the room felt the addition of a definition of ‘vulnerability’ would go a long way to clearing up confusion surrounding the third licensing objection- the protection of children and vulnerable persons. The biggest dividing feature of the current Gambling Act, and consequently its place in any review, are the words ‘aim to permit’ in section 153… no guesses for who comes down on which side!
A major casino operator provided the context for the day. With clear and concise explanations of their business, the day to day struggles of a casino operator and where the big problems lie for operators in current times, it presented much needed balance for the day. The practical application of the rules and regulations is of most importance to operators, and the difficulties surrounding affordability were highlighted, in particular the difficulty in obtaining documents from customers. Many individuals are insulted, and quite often nervous, when asked to supply personal documents of a confidential nature.
The day was rounded off with a tour of the Casino- I don’t think anyone had a flutter but you never know!
If you have any queries on the above or any other gambling related matter please contact Chris Rees-Gay (Chris@woodswhur.co.uk) or Amanda Usher (Amanda@woodswhur.co.uk).