Memorandum submitted by the Betting Office
Licensees Association (BOLA)
The Betting Office Licensees Association (BOLA)
is the off-course betting industry's leading trade body. BOLA
has both large and small members, including all of the leading
British bookmaking companies, and represents some 5,500 of the
country's 8,100 licensed betting offices.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee (the
Committee) has announced its intention to examine the Government's
response to the Report of the Gambling Review Body (the Review
Body) published in July 2001. The Committee has said that its
initial inquiry will focus on changes to regulation of gaming
machines and the casino industry, and the potential impact of
the Government's proposals on the National Lottery.
Although BOLA is primarily concerned with licensed
betting offices, the various industries that comprise the overall
gambling sector have sufficient in common for the Association
to have views on most of the matters the Committee has said it
intends to examine. For example, all gambling operations considered
by the Review Body rely on gaming machines of one type or another.
This paper does not, however, wish to comment on the proposals
that relate only to casinos.
In general, BOLA has welcomed the Government's
response to the Gambling Review Body's Report. The Review is the
most comprehensive study of gambling in this country since the
1978 Royal Commission and the changes the Government has said
it intends to make will have a major impact, both socially and
on this country's highly-regarded and successful gambling industry.
No responsible operator or representative body
will disagree with the Review Body's objectives of keeping gambling
crime free, ensuring that the customer is fairly treated, and
protecting the minority for whom gambling can be a problem. In
addition to social considerations, the industry is aware that
its high international standing is founded on these principles.
Thus there is wide recognition that any change must be socially
as well as commercially correct.
In BOLA's view, however, a small number of the
proposals outlined in the Government response document "A
Safe Bet for SuccessModernising Britain's Gambling Laws"
are either of questionable wisdom, or should be implemented
in advance of primary legislation. The issues of most interest
to BOLA are:
the introduction of Jackpot Machines
in Licensed Betting Offices.
rejection of the Review Body's recommendation
that side betting be permitted on the National Lottery.
transfer of premise licensing from
magistrates to local authorities.
abolition of the demand test
the appointment of a Charitable Trust
to help fund organisations involved in the treatment of problem
The Committee has requested comment on the impact
of the proposals on the suppliers, lessors and users of gaming
machines. In general, BOLA supports the machine regime outlined
in the Government's response on the grounds that it will help
operators and their suppliers meet customer expectations of a
modern leisure industry.
In particular, the betting industry is pleased
that its case for machines with a maximum prize appropriate to
the betting office environment has been recognised. One of the
main customer criticisms of the Amusement with Prizes (AWP) machines
currently allowed in betting offices is that the maximum prize
of £25 is an anomaly in premises where far larger sums of
money can be won or lost. Thus the proposed four Jackpot machines
(or a mix of Jackpot and AWP machines) with a maximum prize of
£500 will be welcomed by all bookmakers.
As betting offices have a good record of adhering
to the over 18 age rule, and as the adults who frequent them do
so with the prime intention of gambling, this change will not
jeopardise the safeguards the Government and the industry are
so keen to maintain.
BOLA's only reservation about the introduction
of Jackpot machines is that, as matters stand, it could be three
or more years before betting offices are able to install them.
Prior to the announcement of the Gambling Review, the Government
had agreed in principle to the introduction of a higher value
slot machine in LBOs. Had the Review not taken place, it is reasonable
to assume that this type of machine would already be available
in betting offices.
Under these circumstances, the betting industry
believes that it will be unfair if this already overdue reform
has to wait for primary legislation, particularly as changes to
the machine regime in bingo halls have recently been implemented.
Accordingly, we seek the support of the Committee for our request
that the proposed Jackpot machines be introduced as early as possible
through secondary legislation.
There is one aspect of the Government's apparent
intentions on machines with which BOLA strongly disagrees. At
present, there are an estimated 2,000 machines, described in "A
Safe Bet?" (paragraph 4.22) as fixed-odds machines in
betting offices across the country.
These machines are, in fact, no more than betting
terminals. They offer fixed odds betting on numbers' and, in effect,
they fulfil the same function as a cashier accepting a numbers'
bet over the counter. They meet the criteria of providing a betting
rather than a gaming opportunity by offering odds about future
events which take place at a central location. This means that,
unlike gaming machines, these machines have no influence over
the result of the event. As they already offer prizes substantially
higher than the £500 Jackpot limit, which BOLA is happy to
accept in the context of gaming, it would be a retrograde step
for them to subject to this maximum. This is a matter that BOLA
intends to take up with DCMS.
The legislation which brought the National Lottery
into being in 1995 specifically prohibits bookmakers from taking
side bets on the Lottery numbers. The arguments for and against
this embargo have been well rehearsed over the years, but whenever
the issue has come under serious scrutiny the outcome has been
a recommendation in favour of side betting being allowed. For
example, the Culture, Media and Sports Committee has twice (on
the first occasion as the National Heritage Select Committee)
recommended that this ban be lifted. Recently, the All Party Gambling
Group interviewed representatives of BOLA and Camelot and came
to the same conclusion.
Although the National Lottery itself was outside
its remit, the Gambling Review Body also recommended that betting
on the Lottery should be allowed. In "A Safe Bet?"
the Government concedes that the evidence suggests that the introduction
of side betting on the Irish Lottery coincided with, rather than
contributed to, a fall in Irish Lottery sales. It also comments
that the extent of the risk that side betting here would have
a direct impact on National Lottery sales is uncertain. Nevertheless,
the Review Body's recommendation has been rejected, thus maintaining
a situation in which the National Lottery is the only future event
in the betting industry's 40 year history on which it is illegal
to accept bets.
Given the Committee's past interest in this
issue, it seems unnecessary to reiterate in full the arguments
in favour of side betting. However, BOLA has submitted to the
Government detailed research conducted by Mori and Europe Economics
which shows that side betting would be unlikely to damage the
National Lottery and could, in fact, complement it. A copy of
this research is being forwarded under separate cover.
The decision to transfer responsibility for
the licensing of gambling premises from magistrates to local authorities
is difficult to understand. No substantial reason was given by
the Review Body for this recommendation, which the Government
has endorsed in spite of what "A Safe Bet?" described
as various concerns raised during the consultation exercise about
the ability of local authorities to take on an enhanced role.
The Government's reason for accepting this recommendation
is that it favours local authorities having responsibility for
local licensing matters because this will enable people to have
a say in decisions that affect their lives. In order to avoid
some of the anomalies that might otherwise occur the Government
envisages the proposed Gambling Commission issuing guidance and
advice which local authorities would be obliged to take account
of. It has also identified a need for clear statutory criteria
against which all licensing decision will be made.
While the measures envisaged by the Government
go some way towards addressing the industry's concerns, they do
not change the fact that local politicians, who may have different
pressures from area to area and whose identities and affiliations
can be subject to radical change, could be open to influence in
a way that magistrates are not.
In BOLA's opinion this proposal appears, at
best, unlikely to bring any benefit. It smacks of change for the
sake of it, while the industry has confidence in the present system,
which it would like to see retained.
Though agreeing with the Review Body on the
need to stimulate competition and improve customer choice, it
is important that regulation remains sufficiently robust to ensure
that the British industry's reputation for integrity is not damaged
by over-adherence to these aims. For example, it seems to us that
there is an anomaly in expressing concern about problem gambling
and, at the same time, recommending changes which, as the Review
Body's has conceded, are likely to increase the number of problem
The measure most likely to cause an escalation
in problem gambling is abolition of the demand test. By recognising
that the incidence of problem gambling in the UK is lower than
in other comparable countries and, at the same time, recommending
a change that could lead to a substantial rise in the number of
outlets the Review Body appears guilty of contradictory thinking.
It is, therefore, disappointing that the Government apparently
has failed to recognise this threat to its social objectives.
Before agreeing that the demand criteria should be abolished,
the Committee may wish to satisfy itself on whether this would
be consistent with its wider and, we would argue, more important
social policy objectives.
It seems to BOLA that there is an irony in the
proposal that the industry should meet the cost of treating the
increase in problem gambling that may occur if the demand test
This comment should not be taken as an indication,
however, that the betting industry is not prepared to play a full
part, along with Government, other gambling activities and, as
we believe should be the case, the National Health Service, in
addressing a problem which may be less severe than in other comparable
countries, but which still should not be ignored.
As evidence of this commitment, BOLA played
a leading part in establishing the Gambling Industry Charitable
Trust, which is already raising and distributing funds, with organisations
such as GamCare and Gordon House benefiting from this activity.
Both BOLA and individual members have contributed to the Fund
Trust, which we believe is a good example of self regulation and
enlightened self help, and we look forward to continuing to do
30 April 2002