Gambling

Written evidence submitted by The A & S Leisure Group (GA 16)

Summary:

1. Overview of the Gambling Act 2005 by Dave Allen, Chairman and Managing Director of The A & S Leisure Group Ltd (incorporating Napoleons Casinos).

2. Effectiveness of the core objectives of the Gambling Act 2005, particularly in relation to 24 hour gambling.

1. Overview of the Gambling Act 2005 by Dave Allen of the A & S Leisure Group Ltd.

1.1 I have 40 years experience in the casino and leisure industry and I am the largest private casino owner/ operator in the UK with 2 casinos and a Greyhound Stadium in Sheffield as well as a casino in Leeds, Bradford, Hull and my flagship casino in Leicester Square. I am passionate about the casino industry as a whole and so I am devastated by the fiasco that ensued from the previous Government’s tinkering with the UK’s gambling legislation.

1.2 Despite what the previous Government said about the 1968 Gaming Act being ‘out of date’, and the new 2005 Gambling Act being socially responsible and ‘the best gambling legislative regime in the world’, it is clear, after 4 years that the opposite is true.

1.3 From a business point of view, it has been my experience over the years that stricter regulation and control led to a tightly run industry which maintained healthy balance sheets for all involved. In short, less regulation and structure has led to less profit for the operators and therefore less revenue for HM Treasury and HMRC.

1.4 The liberalisations of the 2005 Act have led to 24 hour gambling being common-place in premises operating ‘open door’ policies which allow unidentified customers to walk in off the street. Removal of the ‘demand criterion’ (which was a mainstay of the 1968 Act) resulted in the clustering of betting shops and other gambling establishments on nearly every High Street in the land allowing the public to gamble to extinction on what GamCare calls ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’ – Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). Personal responsibility has been replaced by politically correct ‘social responsibility’ (with all the onerous paperwork and box-ticking which that entails) and online gambling remains largely unregulated.

1.5 Due to the limitations of the Review protocols, my submission to the Select Committee will concentrate on the first of these - 24 hour gambling.

2. Effectiveness of the core objectives - 24 Hour Gambling.

2.1 In the "Explanatory Memorandum to the Gambling act 2005 (Mandatory and Default Conditions)(England and Wales) Regulations 2007" published in May 2007 (3 months before the Gambling Act came into force), the three types of conditions that can be attached to gambling premises licences are described:

"4.5 Part 8 of the Act provides for three types of conditions that can be attached to premises licences. Mandatory and default conditions which are imposed by the Secretary of State, and individual conditions which are imposed by licensing authorities. In addition there are conditions imposed by the Act.

4.6 Mandatory conditions can be attached generally to all premises licences, or may be attached to all premises of a particular type, or to a particular type of premises under specified circumstances. Once mandatory conditions are attached they can only be removed by further regulations made by the Secretary of State. A licensing authority has no power to remove or vary them.

4.7 Default conditions are attached to premises licences in the same way as mandatory conditions, but they can be amended or removed by licensing authorities. Default conditions shall apply to a licence unless the licensing authority decides to exclude them, in which case the authority can impose alternative conditions relating to the same matter. These powers can apply to all premises licences, or class of licence, or to licences in specific circumstances.

4.8 In addition, licensing authorities have powers to set individual conditions for a premises licence when the licence is granted. In doing so they may impose a condition on a licence, or exclude default conditions."

2.1 Later in the memorandum, the DCMS’s reasoning behind default conditions is described:

"7.13 The Department considered it was necessary to attach default conditions to a premises licence where a general industry or sector-wide approach is desirable in order to assist national consistency, but where licensing authorities ought to be able to respond to local circumstances by altering those conditions if necessary. Having reflected on these criteria, the Department concluded that the only issue which was more appropriately dealt with by default conditions was the hours during which facilities for gambling may be offered.

7.14 Under the current legislation, most gambling premises are subject to conditions which determine the hours during which facilities for gambling may be offered. The Department considered that it was important to maintain this approach but recognized that the act introduced new safeguards which would make it possible to take a more flexible approach to gambling hours. The Department therefore proposed to set gambling hours for certain premises by default conditions, The aim was to establish industry norms while giving the operators the flexibility to apply to extend their hours, and the licensing authorities the flexibility to extend to extend or reduce the default hours."

2.2 Further DCMS reasoning is provided at the end of the memorandum:

"8.9 Some concerns were expressed about the proposed default hours for gambling premises. Some community and faith groups argued that the extended opening hours would encourage more people to gamble and that increasing the availability of gambling opportunities will lead to a rise in problem gambling. Some unions were also worried that extended hours could be detrimental to staff working in casinos and licensed betting offices. Industry representatives complained that it was inappropriate to restrict hours for the new casinos as it would deprive them of commercial opportunities. The Department saw the force of these arguments but concluded that the proposed default hours represented the right balance between giving the industry greater freedoms and maintaining a level of control. In reaching this decision the Department recognized the important role that licensing authorities would play in ensuring that the hours which gambling is on offer are appropriate for the location of a particular type of premises."

2.3 At the time, the only "industry representatives" who "complained that it was inappropriate to restrict hours for the new casinos" were overseas operators who envisioned operating the 16 Gambling Act licences and who wanted the best weapons possible not to compete with the existing casino estate, but to overthrow any such competition and bring "Las Vegas style" gaming to the UK. Heavy lobbying from the overseas operators is the only reason the opening hours were set as default conditions and the lobbying of those operators is the main reason that other unwarranted relaxations were included in the Act (e.g. the removal of "ID on entry" and casino membership; alcohol allowed on the gaming floor; mass-media advertising permitted; gaming staff being allowed to gamble in casinos and accept tips etc.).

2.4 History now shows that the licensing authorities, rather than "ensuring that the hours which gambling is on offer are appropriate for the location of a particular type of premises" merely granted 24 hour licences whenever they were applied for as they were no longer permitted to take "demand" as a criterion when considering those applications.

2.5 By as early as February 2008, the Government started to realise that they had made another mistake, and in his statement to the House on Gambling Policy on 26th February 2008, the incumbent Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt. Hon. Andy Burnham said:

"I believe that it is a good principle that all casinos are subject to a period of closure every day, when individuals are required to leave the premises. Currently, casinos are prevented from offering gambling over 24 hours unless they apply to local authorities for an extension. However, I wish to rule out the possibility that some may remain open round the clock, by requiring them to close their doors for at least six hours."

2.6 I agree wholeheartedly but, needless to say, Mr. Burnham’s promise came to nothing. 24 hour casinos are operating around the nation where customers gamble to extinction. How can that be "socially responsible"?

Recommendation: The default condition should be made a mandatory condition requiring the closure of the casino between the hours of 6am and 12pm daily. To add a default element permitting the operator and licensing authority to determine which 6 hour period in the day the casino wishes (and is allowed) to close would defeat the object of having a ‘closed period’. Competing operators in a local area would stagger their closing times in respect of their competitors’ hours of business resulting in customers still being able to gamble for 24 hours by moving from casino to casino.

2.7 In conclusion may I put on record my despair at the way a once vibrant, world-renowned and highly respected industry has been forced to degenerate through poor Government, disastrous changes to the taxation regime and, despite extensive consultation over many years, weak and inappropriate gambling legislation.

June 2011

Prepared 29th July 2011