AGCs typically put a lot of work into their policies and procedures when applying for a licence. But David Inzani, associate solicitor at Poppleston Allen, argues it’s equally important these are regularly reviewed and analysed by venues.
Given the recent statements by the Gambling Commission’s new Chairman Marcus Boyle about the need for better regulation, tougher sanctions and greater operator accountability, there can be little doubt the gambling industry needs to be prepared for more intense scrutiny going forward.
However, when such statements appear heavily skewed towards the online sector, it is perhaps understandable that some adult gaming centres might be somewhat unconcerned about the impact of this tougher stance on their own operations. Indeed, the bulk of the huge fines imposed in recent years have been levied on online operators.
While it’s true that AGCs do not face the same level of risk as online operators in some areas, for example, money laundering, it’s certainly not the case that they can afford to be complacent. We are already seeing an increase in scrutiny from local councils when operators apply for premises licences; these days we are much more likely to receive objections and be required to go to hearings than in the past.
Westminster’s attempt to use a byelaw devised to regulate pleasure fairs in the 1960s to force the closure of AGCs between midnight and 9am earlier this year is one example, albeit an extreme one, of a local authority trying to get a greater regulatory hold over the land-based gambling industry in its area.
Much of the concern from councils and other interest groups is rightly related to the potential for harm. New AGCs are typically located in high streets and the surrounding areas are often home to institutions that attract either vulnerable people or children. Operators will naturally look at all of the potential for harm when making an application as part of the local area risk assessment. But part of what we call ‘good housekeeping’ involves regularly reviewing these risks and acting accordingly.
Operators have an ongoing duty to identify and mitigate against local risks, such as a new homeless shelter or youth club opening in the vicinity. They can’t simply file the risk assessment away and forget about it once their licence is in place.
Similarly, venues sometimes overlook how change might impact some of their basic licence conditions. All licensed premises must have a copy of their licence on site, as well as the summary on display. However, it’s entirely possible that in the midst of a renovation one might forget that the layout drawing attached to their licence must always reflect the current layout. If the venue has been reconfigured and this hasn’t been updated in the licence, technically the operator is in breach of its licence.
Another key area of housekeeping is staff training, particularly in light of the difficult recruitment climate we’re currently seeing in the UK. It’s important to remember that the Gambling Act provides specific rights of entry and inspection to officers of local councils and the Gambling Commission. An inspector could turn up at any time and if a new member of staff is on duty and has not been trained properly, things could go terribly wrong.
While it was some time ago, October 2019 to be precise, that the Gambling Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) was changed to put more emphasis on customer interactions, the pandemic- related closures and high staff turnover of recent years could well have seen some staff left behind in this area.
Of the three pillars of the resulting Gambling Commission guidance – namely identify, interact and evaluate – the last is one that operators might be falling short on given the disruptions of the past couple of years.
Operators will likely have given staff training on identifying and interacting with those at risk of harm, but it’s equally important that they are stringently evaluating all of these interactions. Essentially, they need to log everything carefully, review the data and make critical conclusions of their own about what works and what doesn’t for their business.
As with local risk assessments, the temptation in this area is to write really thorough policies and put them on a shelf, never to be seen again. However, the reality is they must be constantly reviewed, updated and refreshed so staff are always up to date.
Indeed, the LCCP itself is ever-changing. As the Gambling Commission says: “The LCCP is not static, we make amendments or additions to take account of developments in the industry or emerging evidence on the most effective means of promoting socially responsible gambling.” AGC operators must do the same if they want to remain compliant.