DCMS Secretary Stuart Andrew has pledged that the government will modernise and safeguard land-based gambling venues as one of the main aims in its Gambling Review.
Talking at the Bacta Annual Convention 2023, he said: “The economic benefits of the arcade and amusement sector are huge. The sector produces a collective economic turnover of £1.6 billion and supports thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom.”
“Our white paper, which we published earlier this year, recognised the importance of the sector. It outlined our ongoing commitment to supporting you after a challenging few years following COVID-19 and rising energy prices. We hope that the measures we are taking will enable the sector to continue to operate sustainably now and over the coming years.”
“Last month we closed the government’s land-based gambling consultation, which included our proposals for the reform of the 80/20 rule, the introduction of direct cashless payments on gaming machines, and our commitment to introducing an age limit on ‘cash out’ Category D slot style machines – something which I know Bacta members already adhere to.
“Our white paper and consultation recognised that the 80/20 ratio of low to medium stake gaming machines is no longer fit for purpose. We fully recognise that this current ratio does not allow you to meet customer demand, and that this has led to the maintenance of large numbers of machines, which are underused but energy intensive. This situation is undesirable for both businesses and the consumer.”
“We therefore proposed to modernise this ratio to better reflect customer demand. But we have a responsibility to ensure that customers are presented with a genuine offer of lower stake gambling opportunities in order to maintain a safe gambling environment.
“To make this policy a success, it has been essential to gather a wider range of evidence through a rigorous consultation process. That is why we also consulted on removing the 80/20 rule entirely. This process will provide us with the confidence that our policy changes will deliver on the white paper priorities of modernising the sector, while maintaining appropriate safeguards against gambling harm.
“Payment methods have shifted substantially in recent years, with many customers on the high street no longer carrying cash as they used to. Having visited Novomatic and Merkur’s high street arcade venues in Hammersmith, I appreciate that there are ways for customers to use their card through things like ticket-in-ticket-out machines,” he added.
“However, the current prohibition on the direct use of debit cards on machines is out of step with how people expect to be able to pay for things. The ability to use debit cards on gaming machines is a necessary modernisation to ensure that the sector is able to keep up with changing consumer preferences. We will set out a framework of minimum standards that must be adhered to if a machine is to accept direct cashless payments. Central to this framework is the need to ensure strong player protections are in place to safeguard against gambling harm.
“Our commitment to introducing an age limit on ‘cash out’ Category D slot style machines. This measure is essential for ensuring that children and young people are not exposed to the risks associated with underage gambling. We are now legislating on this to ensure that all venues, including those outside of the Bacta membership, adhere to these standards. We recognise the value of maintaining these machines on the floors of Family Entertainment Centres for the use of adults, while their children enjoy penny pushers and the various other amusements that these venues have to offer.
“All of the measures outlined above will require secondary legislation, and we intend to take the necessary steps to implement these measures by summer 2024. As with all secondary legislation, these timelines will be dependent on parliamentary time.
“We have proposed a levy rate of 0.1 per cent to be paid by land-based arcades, which is less than the rate proposed for online gambling operators, betting shops and casinos. We believe that this is proportionate approach and should not place undue burden on the sector. As for the manufacturers, single-site operators and distributors, I understand your concern regarding the proposed 0.4 per cent levy rate. The legislation is clear that the levy needs to be paid by all those with a licence. However, we want the structure to be clear, fair and proportionate. We are keen to hear from industry and will take all evidence we receive into consideration when making a final decision.”
“That consultation closes on 14 December and, if you haven’t done already, I encourage you all to submit a response,” he added.