Let’s put low stake gambling back on the agenda and not allow it to get consumed by Brexit!

Nick Harding, chairman of the cross-sector strategic body, the Gambling Business Group and a former bacta National President, argues why the low stake sector should get on the front foot in pursuit of a more dynamic and relevant legislative framework and reveals what should be on the shopping list

Amidst all of the talk and speculation concerning the implications of a hard Brexit, the odds of the government calling a snap general election, the possible proroguing of Parliament and the latest development – the call from Caroline Lucas MP for a cabinet of women to help mend ‘our broken democracy’ it is not at all surprising that the issues that fundamentally jeopardise our industry have fallen off the radar. 

But in low stake gaming’s corridors of power (or should that be corridors of uncertainty?) I have heard seasoned observers question the last time it actually was ‘on the radar’, this, despite the fact that we have all of the infrastructure in place, a sizeable regulator carrying a fair size overhead and a new Minister with responsibility for gambling in the form of Rebecca Pow the MP for Taunton Deane.  The government’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for arts, heritage and tourism represents the third minister in less than nine months for the UK’s gambling industry.

Of course the country has resembled a stuck piece of vinyl on an old school jukebox since the Referendum of 23 June 2016 but the neglect of our industry goes back much further than that. 

Consider the facts: there has been no change in stakes and prizes for over a decade – in fact since when I served as bacta President for those Coinslot readers who can remember that far back!  The cynical slippage of the review process – once known as the Triennial (the clue is in the title!) has enabled our overseers to park the issues that determine the rhythm of the business and it’s direction of travel.  This, in a digital age of technology so profoundly significant that it’s widely referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – indeed, there’s even an All-Party Parliamentary Group dedicated to it.

So to get to the heart of my argument, isn’t it time that the low stake gambling sector, a sector that’s enjoyed by millions in a fun and social environment, drew up its own political shopping list of what’s required to sustain an industry that makes huge contributions to regional economies and to the fabric of the country at large?

First of all we must have the reintroduction of the Triennial Review and stick to the three  year cycle.  In most sectors of our industry, digital has taken over from analogue and because digital is much more fluid in the way it can respond to trends and market forces it necessitates a regular review of the game design envelope.  Furthermore there is no longer any need for round pound stakes as most players use notes, and machines either pay out in notes/coins or TiTO tickets. For Cat C we need to move to a maximum stake of £1.20 and a single payout of £120.

My next point is for the Commission to review the 4:1 ratio of Category C to B3 in AGCs. Players much prefer the flexibility of a B3 which can allow stakes of between 10p and £2, we should therefore move to 3:1 ratio. 

Turning to Cat D, there’s a danger that the industry gets caught up in a no-win debate. As a consequence we need to detach non complex Cat D (cranes/pushers) from complex Cat D (spinning reel machines) as swiftly as possible. We should create a new category for cranes/pushers or arguably declassify them completely as ‘the man on the Clapham Omnibus’ doesn’t regard them as gambling.  With reference to Bingo, I would seriously question why in a 24/7 society the law dictates that you have to stop playing at midnight!

There’s no doubt that low stake gambling is in danger of being consumed in the political bun fight that’s currently being played out.  If it is subject to the same treatment as higher stakes gambling, then we are in serious danger of losing something that we really should be embracing for what it contributes across the social landscape of the country including bingo, horse racing and the Great British seaside holiday experience.

It’s time that more effort was put into differentiating ‘good gambling’ from ‘bad gambling’ and based on the current penchant for research – to shine a light on the many positives that we contribute both economic and social.