Data published towards the end of last year by the Gambling Commission did not make fantastic reading for the pub sector. Test purchasing on Category C machines showed there was, unfortunately, a high level of underage play on machines in pubs and still much work to be done to ensure that underage customers are protected, and underage play stamped out in our venues.
Quite obviously, underage play on pub machine is not acceptable and we need, collectively, to work hard to ensure it does not happen. UKH, our members, and the wider sector recognise this, and we take our responsibility to protect customers, particularly those at risk from harm, very seriously.
The pub environment presents unique issues for businesses trying to tackle this issue and managing machine access is not as straightforward as it is in, for instance, a bookmakers. Children are not permitted in a bookmaker, but they are allowed in a pub and very often families will come for a meal and drink along with their kids. That family-friendly atmosphere is one of the things that makes our sector so inviting, but self-evidently it will also cause the odd headache for businesses. Busy pubs are often noisy, filled with people toing and froing and it can be difficult to keep an eye on every customer.
That does not in itself excuse pubs from their responsibilities. If you’re going to play the game, you’ve got to learn to play it right, and that goes for businesses as well as customers. There is certainly room to improve and if a pub has an amusement machine on-site, ensuring safe and legal play should be very near the top of that pub’s list of priorities.
Following the test purchase reports, UKHospitality wrote to the Gambling Commission to acknowledge the issue and offer our help to combat it. In December, we met with them to highlight the ongoing work the sector carries out and to gain more of an insight into the Commission’s concerns. Working closely with our members, we have developed a code of practice to help businesses manage their machines more effectively, ensure relevant signage and guidance is visible and, ultimately, reduce the likelihood of children accessing amusement machines. Staff training will be enhanced for all types of pub operation, and we and stakeholders will promote best practice and highlight examples of where businesses are getting it right.
Compared to our main business of great food and drink, amusement machines represent a relatively small income stream for most pubs, but it is a vital revenue stream for many venues and one we do not wish to see dry up. With the current political turmoil overshadowing everything else, it can be easy to gloss over other less glamorous, but no less important issues. In many respects, Brexit means that it cannot be business as usual for venues, but the reality is that the usual businesses still need to be addressed, and responsible gaming is no exception.