Nick Arron takes a legal look at 2021 and all the hurdles the industry had to jump just to get to the starting line. The race though is about to begin, says the Poppleston Allen partner, as he looks at the options in the gambling review. Cashless technology, the return of the triennial, an evidence-led review? Read on …. the legals have landed.
NICK ARRON PARTNER & GAMBLING TEAM LEAD POPPLESTON ALLEN
Coinslot: A year that opened in lockdown, staggered through to reopening, via a supply chain crisis and ending with Omicron: how will you look back on 2021?
Nick Arron: Looking back as a solicitor it’s been a dynamic year for regulation, with COVID-19 resulting in new laws being drafted, introduced, amended and withdrawn, in incredibly short time frames.
Changes to statutory instruments were being published almost daily. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel did not have the usual luxury of time when writing these new laws, which created some drafting difficulties, and we had very little time to interpret and advise. Often laws were made and then laid with mere hours before they came into force.
Looking at the machine industry, in both arcade and pubs, we had various differing regulations on when premises must close and open, on permitted hours, mandatory seating, table service, masks, distancing, signage, alcohol with or without food. Then when and how the industry was affected all depended on where your premises were located.
But 2021 was also a year to look forward with caution, with the DCMS Review of the Gambling Act 2005, Terms of Reference and Call for Evidence Consultation.
The DCMS sought opinion on the role of the Gambling Commission, on increasing protection online, limiting stakes, speed and prize limits and on harm caused by gambling advertising. The DCMS review also sought opinions on changes to the regulation of land-based gambling, on machines and the powers attributed to licensing and Local Authorities in their responsibilities in respect of Premises Licences granted under the Gambling Act 2005, with the consultation presenting both risks and opportunities.
Coinslot: We’ve had five months since re-opening, what were your highlights of the year?
Nick Arron: We’ve been busy making AGC and bingo premises licence applications to local authorities and it has been great to see the industry responding positively to changes on our high streets. But it’s getting tougher out there, with more objections from local authorities, the police, residents, councillors and MPs.
We’ve also seen the Gambling Commission become increasingly active. A total of £32.1million was paid by 15 gambling businesses as a result of fines or regulatory settlements – more than any previous year. We saw the suspension of five operator licences and the revocation of licences for one operator and nine personal management licence holders.
Coinslot: What are you looking or hoping for in 2022 and what’s on your New Year’s wish list?
Nick Arron: The obvious one is looking forward to detailed proposals emerging from the Gambling Act 2005 Review, so that the gaming machine industry can begin adjusting to any changes, particularly any relating to land based regulation.
Hopefully we will see the introduction of cashless technology on gaming machines and the reintroduction of the triennial review with a legal requirement for an evidence led sector review at least every three years.
It would be good to see more flexible powers to vary regulation and game machine types to keep up with innovation and customer demand, although acknowledging the need for appropriate research and evidence on player safety. Clients are also hoping for the ability for machines in high street Adult Gaming Centres, bingo halls, pubs and clubs to provide enhanced community features by linking together.
I would hope that operators and entrepreneurs continue to innovate along the lines of the applications we are seeing on our high streets and developments such as contemporary entertainment bingo. The gambling industry is constantly innovating and I look forward to seeing what operators come up with in 2021.