Majority of UK pubs failing to stop underage fruit machine gambling

18 October 2019

The GB Gambling Commission has called for pubs across England and Wales to take further action to stop under-18s from playing Category C gaming machines after a review found that 84% failed to prevent such underage gambling.

British law states that anyone under the age of 18 is not permitted to play these so-called ‘fruit machines’ in pubs, with staff expected to stop them from doing so. Signage that indicates these rules should also be in place inside the pub.

However, over the past 12 months, the GC worked with local authorities and police to test compliance with laws in place to protect children from the risks gambling can pose, finding that the majority did not comply.

This followed a test sample taken in 2018 that found 88% of pubs in England failed to prevent children accessing the gaming machines. As such, the GC said the rules for the machines are still not being appropriately enforced and many employees are unaware of the restrictions.

“The pub industry must accelerate action to enforce these rules,” GC programme director Helen Rhodes said. “Pubs must take age verification on machines as seriously as they do for alcohol sales, and they risk losing their entitlement to offer machines if they do not.

“The results last year were extremely disappointing and we have supported local authorities in their action to raise standards. This includes working with the providers of training to the pub industry to emphasise the legal requirements in training materials, as well as with the Home Office to work towards including materials on gambling in pubs in the curriculum for the personal licence holder course.

“We urge the pub sector to respond to this opportunity to protect children and young people and to prevent the need for local authorities to take enforcement action.”

The British Beer and Pub Association, the body that represents brewers and pub companies in the UK, and trade association UK Hospitality have responded to the call by joining forces on a new initiative to tackle underage gambling in pubs.

The two organisations have united to work with their members and produce an updated Social Responsibility Charter for Gaming Machines in Pubs. The Charter incorporates a Code of Practice aimed at promoting collaboration and training to prevent underage gambling.

Core principles include collaboration across the sector to help address underage gambling, as well as offering support to staff to ensure they understand and meet their legal responsibilities.

The trade bodies will also co-operate with regulatory and enforcement bodies, as well as work with the GC and problem gambling charity GambleAware to tackle the issue.

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “It is important for pubs to ensure that their gaming machines are not used by those under-age. Not least because failure to do so could result in action being taken by local authorities to remove gaming machine entitlements, when they offer both entertainment and much needed additional revenue for overtaxed pubs.”

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls added: “Gaming machines are a vital revenue stream in pubs and many customers enjoy gambling responsibly when they go to the pub. There can be no room for underage gambling, though, and we need to ensure that standards on this issue are as high as they are in every other aspect of pubs.”