Poppleston Allen: “Despite society’s changing entertainment demands, cash usage and attitudes towards gambling, the ‘pub fruity’ can thrive”

Poppleston Allen Richard Allen social responsibility
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As part of a series of legal-based articles on the industry, Richard Bradley, Associate Solicitor at Poppleston Allen, gets fruity with the Coinslot community, albeit in a pub machines kind of way. If the industry can crack the code for top grade social responsibility and light touch regulation, then the opportunities for gaming machines could be rosy.

 

This summer, the ‘staycation’ boom in tourists revisiting British seaside resorts swelled visitor numbers with many no doubt enjoying a trip to the pier and the arcades.

Richard Bradley Poppleston Allen
Richard Bradley, Associate Solicitor, Poppleston Allen

As another British staple, the pub, prepares for its busiest trading period and ahead of this week’s Bacta AGM, the fruit machine’s future comes into focus in a society where cash usage continues to decline and gambling’s role continues to be evaluated and scrutinised.

‘GAMBLING IS NORMAL’

In a recent blog post, Gambling Commission CEO Andrew Rhodes made the statement that gambling is normal, but harm must not be. We in the industry and as consumers know both parts to be important and true, but the opening line served as a reminder of safe gambling’s place as a form of entertainment within society, with the pub fruit machine playing a key part.

Despite society’s changing entertainment demands, cash usage and attitudes towards gambling, the ‘pub fruity’ can thrive.

DCMS REVIEW

At a time when other forms of gambling are facing tougher regulatory environments, I’d be surprised if that also ends up applying to fruit machines, which already benefit from a ‘light touch’ regulatory framework in respect of their use in alcohol licensed venues. Still, things may not also be about to get any easier and Bacta’s commendable call to change notification requirements and increase the default number of machines in venues licensed under the Licensing Act 2003 may be unlikely to materialise – despite them saving authorities time and money.

JD Wetherspoon’s recent quarterly numbers painted an interesting picture in terms of year-on-year comparisons in fruit machine sales in contrast to wet and dry sales, with revenues from gaming machines down by 12.3 percent in comparison to the equivalent quarter in 2019, compared to a lesser dip in bar sales (9.6 percent) and food (8.1 percent).

In the report, Chairman Tim Martin noted that older customers – who may be more amenable to land-based gambling products and cash usage – had visited pubs less frequently in recent times.

This suggests that in order to continue to be of appeal to younger crowds returning to licensed premises for drinking post-pandemic, there’s a requirement for the same level of innovation seen in other areas of the gambling and entertainment industry, for instance to allow for cashless payment. What does the pub fruit machine have to do in order to stay relevant.

At a recent alcohol licensing event organised by Poppleston Allen, some premises operators suggested they didn’t feel fruit machines were aligned with their image or allowed them to offer customers a premium ‘upmarket’ experience, meaning they were often marginalised in terms of their location within venues, if not removed entirely.

This presents a challenge for manufacturers, although clearly improvements in design can boost commercial performance for both parties if machines take a more prominent place in venues. It also highlights the need to engage with the hospitality trade to ensure machines can become more than just an easy source of revenue hidden in the corner for the few customers who seek to play them.

In a world where experiential entertainment is booming and nostalgia has never been greater, there is an opportunity for machines to play a part in offering low-cost, safe and entertaining forms of gambling entertainment. Games can offer a tangible and incomparable experience to that generated digitally, which could see the classics like the ‘one armed bandit’ make a comeback in revamped form.

With seaside arcades enduring in popularity despite challenges faced by the gambling industry, there’s no reason why arcade meets dining and drinking venues like Penny Lane in Poppleston Allen’s home city Nottingham can’t pop up and thrive throughout the country, with innovative Category D machines playing a part in the entertainment mix alongside Donkey Derbies and air hockey.

There’s an opportunity for machine manufacturers to develop a Category C or D product which would complement the experience offered at a venue where customers pay to throw axes, play table tennis or spend their money in other weird and wonderful ways. Consumer demand for these types of entertainment is booming and fruit machines and low-stake gambling can become a part of that offering.

WHAT ABOUT RESPONSIBLE GAMBLING?

The test purchase work carried before the pandemic by local authorities highlighted some failures of licensed premises to enforce age regulation on their gambling offering in the same way they do alcohol consumption. In a world where it’s essential not just to enforce Codes of Practice but also ensure customers play safely, the industry would benefit from providing staff with additional training and opportunities to monitor play, particularly at the point at which they interact with the customer.

In the new world of app-based drinks ordering, staff spend more time on the premises floor, which should assist with effective machine supervision.

LIGHT TOUCH REGULATION

Undoubtedly pub fruit machines are subject to a lighter touch form of regulation in comparison to other land-based forms of gambling. But that doesn’t mean harm prevention standards should be lower than in any other area of the industry.

In conclusion, if the industry can innovate to align itself with the rebound in spending in the revamped hospitality sector post pandemic, there’s an opportunity not only to sustain commercial revenues but grow the popularity of fruit machines long term in line with new consumer demand.

By increasing the appeal, relevance and customer interaction with the product, machines can play a prominent role in premises whilst ensuring that regulatory and safe gambling standards are improved and upheld, creating a winning combination for all.

The author:
Richard Bradley acts for a range of leisure operators from single premise owners to multinational corporations that provide land based and online gambling services. Richard provides assistance to clients including casinos, bookmakers, society lotteries, bingo operators, family entertainment centre and adult gaming centre arcades, clubs, gaming machine manufacturers and suppliers and gambling software developers.

For more information visit popall.co.uk


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