Britain is experiencing a Covid-induced ‘staycation’ boom, as the British public decide to holiday at home this summer. With many set to revisit classic seaside resorts, there’s sure to be an increase in families visiting arcades, where under 18’s are legally allowed to participate in low stake gambling activities. Imogen Moss, expert gambling industry licensing solicitor at Poppleston Allen, is on hand to run over the vital licensing Q&As ahead of the peak August holiday season to ensure operators and visitors alike can enjoy the traditional pastime whilst staying on the right side of the regulation amidst increased industry scrutiny.
Coinslot: What are the rules on children/ under 18’s playing classic seaside arcade games like 2p slots?
Imogen Moss: There is no minimum age for players of machines which fall under Category D under the Gambling Act 2005. Category D machines are usually low stake fruit machine style machines, coin pushers /penny falls and crane grab machines There are specific stake and prize limits for Category D machines which are detailed below. Note that Bacta agreed that its relevant members would voluntarily raise the age limit for players of Category D cash fruit machines to be 18.
Coinslot: Aren’t these games considered gambling? If so, why do they differ from other gambling products restricted to over 18s
Imogen Moss: The Gambling Act 2005 regulates this activity and as such it is considered gambling, however machines such as 2p slots are generally considered a low-cost, low risk activity.
Dependent on the type of venue and the activities proposed, there are different permits or licences which must be obtained in order to be able to make Category D gaming machines available for use.
It is also important to note that in considering applications for permits and licences the local authority must have regard to the Licensing Objectives in the Gambling Act 2005, which include preventing children from being harmed and exploited by gambling. The machine supplier must also be licensed by the Gambling Commission.
The public perception regarding Category D cash payout fruit machines has changed in recent years.
The industry has responded to this shift in opinion, and Bacta agreed that its relevant members would voluntarily raise the age limit for players of Category D cash fruit machines that are typically seen in seaside arcades and family entertainment centres to 18. This type of category D machine operates at low stake and prize limit and tend to be played by adults in the main, however the Bacta social responsibility charter was updated as a precautionary measure despite there not being a legal age restriction.
Coinslot: Are there any limits on stakes and prizes for gaming machines that can be played by under 18s?
Imogen Moss: A category D gaming machine can have different maximum stake and prizes depending on the machine type or prize:
• Where the prize is money the maximum stake 10p and cash prize £5
• Where the prize is not money the maximum stake is 30p and the maximum prize value is £8
• For mixed money and non money prize gaming machines the maximum stake is 10p and maximum prize value £8 of which £5 can be cash
• For crane grab machines only, which have non money prizes, maximum stake £1 and the maximum prize value £50
• For coin pushers or penny fall only the maximum cash stake is 20p and maximum prize value is £20 which can include up to £10 maximum of cash
Coinslot: Are there areas within arcades that are off limits to under 18s?
Imogen Moss: There are three types of arcades under the Gambling Act 2005: adult gaming centres (AGCs), licensed family entertainment centres (FECs) and unlicensed family entertainment centres (UFECs). UFECs are often referred to as family entertainment centre gaming machine permits.
1. Adult gaming centres are allowed to offer category B3 or B4 gaming machines and as many category C and D machines as they wish. No under 18s are permitted into adult gaming centres.
2. A licensed family entertainment centre (FEC) is an arcade where children are permitted, and which can offer unlimited category C and D gaming machines. The category C machines must be segregated into an adult only area of the arcade so that children do not gain access.
3. Unlicensed family entertainment centre gaming machine permit (UFEC) permits unlimited numbers of category D gaming machines, for instance cranes and pushers, and are premises where children are allowed. There must be no direct access between any other gambling premises and unlicensed FEC as required by the mandatory conditions.
Coinslot: How do the Gambling Commission identify machines that are safe/legal for children and those that aren’t?
Imogen Moss: Rules regarding age restrictions are determined by the Gambling Act 2005 and the associated Regulations. All suppliers and manufacturers of machines must be licensed, and all gaming machines must adhere to the technical standards set by the Gambling Commission which include requirements regarding information to be displayed on the machines..
Coinslot: What protections are in place to ensure that children don’t play on machines that are age restricted?
Imogen Moss: Looking at each sector:
There are requirements under the Act regarding supervision of the premises and operators should ensure that they have a supervision policy in place.
Operators must ensure that there is not any risk to the licensing objectives, particularly in relation to the protection of children and other vulnerable people is being suitably managed. There should be a sufficient number of staff supervising the UFEC area. Operators also need to ensure that the layout of the gaming areas allow staff to monitor the area without hindrance and consideration needs to be given to staff patrols and use of CCTV. Note that in a UFEC, only Category D machines are permitted which are not age restricted.
FEC PREMISES LICENCE
For this type of licence an Operator must hold an Operating licence from the Gambling Commission and be compliant with the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice.
Such requirements include:
• Licensees should require a person who appears to relevant staff to be under the age of 21 to be asked to produce proof of age.
• Procedures should be put into effect for dealing with cases where a child or young person repeatedly attempts to gamble on their premises.
• Where it is likely that customers’ young or otherwise vulnerable children will be left unattended on or adjacent to their premises, licensees should consider reminding customers of their parental responsibilities and assess whether there is a need to develop procedures for minimising the risk to such children.
• Operators must not permit children or young people to gamble in the adults-only areas of premises to which they have access. If there is a ‘no under-18s’ premises policy, operators must pay particular attention to the procedures they use at the entrance to the premises to check customers’ ages.
• Operators must take all reasonable steps to ensure that all staff understand their responsibilities for preventing underage gambling.
Coinslot: Whose responsibility is it to ensure children do not play on machines that are restricted? Parents and guardians, arcade operators, or both?
Imogen Moss: Ultimately it is your permit or licence at risk if you allow under 18’s to gamble on machines that are age restricted.
There is strict liability, and it is a criminal offence to allow anyone under the age of 18 to play on age restricted gaming machines. Operators must therefore take responsibility for ensuring that children are not permitted to play on Category B or C machines.
Operators should also have in place procedures for dealing with cases where an adult knowingly or recklessly allows a child or young person to gamble. This can include removal from the premises and reporting the incident to the police.
Coinslot: When children are playing on machines such as 2p slots, is there guidance on how much money or time can be spent in a session or any responsible gambling advice for machines of this nature?
Imogen Moss: There are no strict time limits but the core principle for operators is responsible gambling in respect of all machines whatever the category or type. This comes back to having robust policies and procedures in place relevant to the type of permit or licence you operate and having sufficient supervision in your venue.
If you feel that a child is spending too much time or money on a machine you can interact with them or their parent/guardian directly and offer information regarding problem gambling.
Imogen Moss is a solicitor at Poppleston Allen, who act for a variety of national and independent operators in the hospitality and retail industries including major restaurant chains, pubs, hotels, nightclubs, shopping centres, bingo operators and adult gaming centres.