Regulators On Arcades ‘Witch-Hunt?’


The UK Gambling Commission’s reputation as the yardstick against which many foreign regulators measure themselves is under pressure this week after the trade association BACTA lodged a protest at what it sees as the Commission making its own laws.

At issue is a number of instances where arcade owners have successfully applied for betting licenses and opened separate premises to run Category B2 machines – the fixed odds betting machines which are so successful in bookmakers’ shops in the UK.

There is growing evidence that the Gambling Commission is hauling in the arcade owners and putting their livelihoods at risk by threatening to remove their operating licenses, citing ‘primary gambling activity’ doubts as a reason for their pressure.

Now BACTA , in receipt of a number of complaints from its members who have been intimidated in this way by the Gambling Commission, had lodged a protest with the Gambling Commission and asked for a formal review of the Commission’s actions.

Betting licenses carry the right to use a maximum of four FOBT machines and many bookmakers now incorporate them into their betting shops alongside the traditional live betting cage. They now form a major part of the turnover and profitability of the major bookmaking chains such as Labrokes and William Hill.

BACTA has accused the Gambling Commission of conducting a campaign against independents who use the same regulations to compete with the bookmakers, setting up their own premises – sometimes part of their arcade, properly self-enclosed with separate entrance – and following all of the criteria for a betting office and subsequently obtaining the necessary local permits. After the event, some of them are being visited by the Gambling Commission and are being hauled in front of Commissioners to ‘review’ their arcade licences.

The association maintains that this is contrary to normal practices between the Commission and the association, which traditionally goes through a consultation process before any action is initiated. The association also complains that the Commission is actually acting outside of the law “aggressively and consistently targeting single site or small operators who have transparently applied for betting operators’ licenses to offer gaming machines.”

BACTA insists that the Commission’s action is “based upon an interpretation which is unsubstantiated in law and the Commission has failed to produce any legal opinion which underpins its view.” It also complains that the Commission is only targeting small operators and not the large national operators and is actually in contravention of the Human Rights Act.

The first hearing concerning a BACTA member and the Commission over a betting licence is due to be held on February 20 and the association is asking that the hearing is suspended pending the outcome of its complaint.


by David Snook

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