The Gambling Commission has discovered that only 10% of pubs actively stop children from gambling on their machines.
In its latest findings, the commission said that it has uncovered a “concerning” amount of pubs that allow young people to gamble on machines.
It comes after a drama over fixed-odds betting machines (FOBTs), which has dominated the headlines this week thanks to reversal on a delay by the government over a reduction in the maximum bet permitted on the machines. Charities warn that FOBTs are renowned for being highly addictive.
FOBTs are the focus of controversial new regulations to reduce the maximum bet from £100 to £2, a reduction that will now be introduced in April. The machines have been criticized for allowing excessive gambling and exposing players to the risk of addiction, making age restrictions on the machines all the more important.
Pub staff’s responsibility
As it stands, regulations mean that pub staff should be preventing under-18s from using gambling machines on the premises. There is also a requirement for signage to be in place that indicates age restrictions on the machines.
The British Beer and Pub Association has released a statement saying it is taking the findings “very seriously.”
While undertaking its research, the Gambling Commission had been working with local police forces and licensing authorities to check that pubs were operating within the law. Instead they found that 89% of pubs were failing to ensure that children were not playing on the machines.
In contrast, checks such as these carried out for other age-restricted activities such as buying alcohol or tobacco revealed a failure rate of between 15% and 30%.
Gambling Commission program director, Helen Rhodes, said of the findings: “We are extremely concerned that pubs across England are failing to stop children playing gaming machines designed for adults. We urgently call on the pub sector to take action immediately to enforce the laws in place to protect children and young people.”
A safe space for families
The British Beer and Pub Association’s chief executive, Brigid Simmonds, said that pubs should offer customers a “safe and friendly environment” that should be family-friendly too.
“We have ensured that all of our members are aware of both the BBPA’s and Gambling Commission’s codes of practice and we are already taking steps to develop a social charter for responsible gambling, for use by licensees and pub companies.
“However, given the importance of this issue we are seeking urgent meetings with the Gambling Commission and local authorities to ensure appropriate action is taken.”
One police force worked with cadets to test their local pub’s enforcement of the age restrictions. Barnet police said: “[We] are committed to safeguarding young people from addiction and gambling. Ensuring that children cannot gain access to gaming machines in the borough is just one step to reducing that risk to young people.”
The Gambling Commission said: “We were very pleased to be working in partnership with Barnet Police and Barnet Borough Council to tackle underage gambling. We were, however, disappointed with the results and would like to remind all pubs that it is their responsibility to ensure the underage are not using gambling machines on their premises.”
The findings in Barnet appear to be reflective of the general trend across the UK and the addictive nature of the machines is a particular cause for concern.
Awareness campaigns amongst retailers have worked when it comes to verifying customers’ age before selling alcohol or tobacco have been effective in the past, so identifying this as an issue could result in changes being implemented in the sector.