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UK – Casino operators regret ‘missed opportunity’ to modernise the UK industry

By - 2 November 2017

The National Casino Forum (NCF), which represents all the UK’s land-based casinos, has said it is ‘disappointed’ that its detailed response to the DCMS Call for Evidence last December, has been completely ignored with none of the proposals to modernise the casino sector being accepted in DCMS’ review into gaming machines and social responsibility measures

The NCF said: “We are disappointed and frustrated by the DCMS gambling review. It welcomes the progress made by the casino sector in protecting its customers while at the same time stifling modernisation and innovation. This was an opportunity to modernise the casino industry, giving our customers greater choice and recognising that machine gambling is best suited to safe, well-regulated and well-staffed venues – sadly, it has not been taken.

“Casino operators have been discussing the regulatory situation with DCMS for many years and we were progressing well with what we thought was an agreed roadmap. The DCMS acknowledged that machine allowances in casinos originally licensed under the 1968 Gaming Act are significantly smaller than in other European countries and overseas territories, but does nothing to address this fact. It is simultaneously denying British customers the choice they can routinely find abroad and making the UK’s casinos less attractive to tourists visiting this country. Foreign visitors laugh at the 20-machine limit in British casinos.”

Putting all casinos on a level playing field and removing outdated, illogical regulations that differentiate between them solely on their licensing conditions, would trigger nearly £100m in investment, create nearly 1,500 new jobs and put an extra £95m into the Exchequer, much of it from overseas customers. It would allow casino operators to diversify and improve their leisure offering.
It has long been accepted that casinos are at the top of the regulatory pyramid, with high levels of supervision and control – a point made by former Gambling Minister Richard Caborn to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee as long ago as 2012. The casino sector has led the way in promoting responsible gambling, launching the Playing Safe programme, which requires all operators to be evaluated and accredited by an independent panel. Casinos have high staffing levels, licensed door staff to monitor entry and a culture of interaction between customers and staff, all of whom are licensed.

The widely publicised problems associated with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals which the government has addressed in this review are not prevalent in the casino sector. Only around 180 of the 34,000 B2 machines in the UK are situated in the country’s 148 casinos and the average amount spent per play is £12.81. The fact that there have been no reported issues around FOBTs in casinos, demonstrates the suitability of our premises for high stakes machines.

The review offered an opportunity for a more widespread reform of the 2005 Gambling Act, which the NCF said is no longer fit for purpose. “The DCMS has ducked this challenge,” the NCF added. “For example, it is absurd that casinos are not allowed to give customers direct access to their online gaming sites even though they can access them from their own smartphones while inside the casino. Nor can it be right that, in the 21st century, casinos cannot use cashless technology; but this issue has not been satisfactorily addressed.”

In fact, the review raises the prospect of new regulations, which will potentially add costs to operators, such as the widespread introduction of tracked play. It is doing this while holding back innovation; for example, proposing to amend the rules governing tables, which will impact the use of automated or partially automated tables. An opportunity to allow high-end casinos to introduce a new gaming machine that would appeal to High Net Worths, who are used to playing high stakes commensurate with their wealth profile at venues around the world, has also not been taken.

The DCMS said it needed to see more evidence that player protection is being enhanced before it will agree to consider allowing more B1 machines into casinos.

“We believe that existing levels of control and supervision justify extra machines; furthermore, customer data is submitted by operators and is available for scrutiny,” the NCF explained.

The casino sector has been working on a major research project for the last three years with the Canadian firm, Focal Research, which seeks to identify behaviour patterns associated with problem gambling. Five major operators are providing customer data for this project and live trials begin in December 2017, concluding in May 2018 – too late for the 12-week consultation period announced today.

The NCF added: “We are extremely disappointed that the DCMS appears to be ruling out any change to machine numbers at present when the casino sector has, in fact, been pioneering the very research it calls for in this review. We intend to demonstrate that the time for change is now. We hope the government will recognise the work undertaken by operators to ensure casinos are the safest places to gamble, allowing them to invest and modernise rather than saddling them with extra costs and blocking innovation.”

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