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LGA response to the "Gambling Related Harm APPG White Paper Inquiry Launch" Published Date: 09/08/2023

In its response, Cllr Lewis Cocking, LGA Safer and Stronger Communities Board Vice-Chair, wrote:

The LGA welcomes the Gambling Related Harm APPG’s inquiry on the Gambling Act Review White Paper. As the APPG will be aware, councils have regulatory responsibility for land-based gambling premises and as such, the LGA is less able to comment on the provisions in the white paper which relate to non-remote gambling which the APPG’s inquiry questions focus on. However, we wanted to share some broader reflections on the white paper which we hope will be of assistance to the inquiry.

At present, councils do not have the powers they need to effectively manage local gambling premises. Councils do have mechanisms to try and reduce the risk of gambling harm through their statement of licensing principles and local area profile. However, no matter how robust a council’s local area profile or licensing policy is, it is extremely difficult to use these to prevent a new premises from opening in inappropriate areas because of the statutory ‘aim to permit’ gambling. Consequently, the LGA has consistently called for additional powers to allow local democratically elected councillors to restrict the opening of new gambling premises in areas where there are already clusters, or where for other reasons – for example the presence of treatment centres, or schools, or because of community opposition – it may not be appropriate to open a gambling venue.

We called for the government to reconsider the ‘aim to permit’ in the Gambling Act Review or to introduce cumulative impact assessments to provide councils with greater powers to control the number of gambling premises in their local area, so we are pleased that the white paper contains a commitment to introduce cumulative impact assessments. Cumulative impact assessments are widely used to regulate alcohol premises under the Licensing Act 2003 and are a tool which give councils greater scope to refuse an application for an alcohol licence in areas where there are concerns that the density of premises in a particular area is having a negative impact on the licensing objectives. It also creates a presumption against granting new licences in areas where there is already saturation.

However, although the proposal is a step in the right direction, there are some limitations to this. Firstly, the change requires an amendment to primary legislation and the Government’s commitment is to make the change ‘when Parliamentary time allows’. It is unclear when this would be, so we urge the Government to find an appropriate legislative vehicle in a timely manner. It would be helpful if the APPG could raise this point, too. Secondly, the introduction of cumulative impact assessments will not help to prevent a new premises opening in an area with no/few gambling premises but which councils – or residents – feel is an inappropriate location, due to the proximity to a school or treatment centre, for example.

The Gambling Act review also pledges to give councils increased powers in relation to gambling machines in alcohol licensed premises. In 2019 a review of pubs in England and Wales showed 84 per cent of them failed to prevent under 18-year-olds from playing on fruit machines. The Government will legislate when Parliamentary time allows to strengthen licensing authority powers in respect of alcohol-licensed premises: this could include the ability to cancel the entitlement to additional gaming machines, vary the permit to change the number of machines allowed, or even remove the automatic entitlement to site gaming machines where there is a failure to prevent underage gambling.

It is likely these measures will assist councils with their work on enforcement and will help to prevent young people from gambling. We are aware of councils adopting innovative approaches to try and tackle this issue. For example, Southampton City Council were concerned that alcohol licensed premises were failing to prevent young people from accessing on site gambling machines, as evidenced by a higher than national average test purchase failure rate. Consequently, officers in Southampton began engagement with premises to address this issue. The premises involved agreed to install age verification software into the gambling machines. This software is based on facial recognition technology which prevents anyone who appears under 25 from using gambling machines. If an individual has ID to prove they are over 18, staff can enter a code into the gambling machine to allow access. This scheme has been highly successful. Failed premises were retested and positively the test purchase failure rate fell to 33 per cent in venues which had not installed the software, and for venues with the software, there were no test purchase failures.

In relation to bingo premises, the white paper seeks to adjust the 80/20 ratio which governs the balance of Category C/D and Category B machines in bingo and arcade venues to 50/50, to ensure that businesses can offer customer choice and flexibility. This is likely to increase the number of category B machines (maximum stake £2), compared to Category C/D machines (maximum stake £1). The LGA is concerned that this is likely to lead to more relatively higher stakes machines in more deprived areas of the country, and this could have the potential to exacerbate gambling related harms.

We were pleased the Government will consult on introducing a statutory levy. The LGA has consistently supported the introduction of a statutory levy on gambling firms, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, to help fund a significant expansion of treatment and support for those experiencing gambling related harm. It is helpful that the new statutory levy will demonstrate that funding is free from industry influence and will provide increased certainty on the amount of funding available. We will continue to monitor developments on this closely and welcome the APPG’s focus on this important issue.

It is positive that the overall messaging in the White Paper demonstrates that the Government views gambling related harms as a public health issue. However, there is a lack of tangible public health measures within the White Paper. The LGA has called on Government to consult on reforming the Gambling Act 2005 so that its objectives reflect a broader range of issues for councils to consider in reaching licensing decisions, for example the introduction of health as a licensing objective, or consideration of replicating the Licensing Act 2003 public nuisance objective. It is disappointing no action has been taken on this issue, and, of course, that the statutory aim to permit remains in place.

The Gambling Commission has also recommended that Government considers formalising the powers of local or national public health authorities under the Gambling Act. There is uncertainty currently about whether public health is a responsible authority or not (and therefore whether their evidence and advice should be considered in local decision making in respect of gambling): the Act currently refers to ‘an authority which has functions in relation to pollution to the environment or harm to human health’ being a responsible authority, which has traditionally been seen as environmental rather than public health. It would be helpful if the Government could clarify this point.

The APPG may be interested to note that the LGA has produced guidance to support councils with their responsibilities relating to gambling licensing. We are also updating our guidance on taking a whole council approach to tackling gambling related harms, and aim to publish a revised version in the autumn of 2023.