UK Government considers relaxation of pub gaming machine rules

Licensed trade bodies have welcomed a new consultation by the UK Government that raises the possibility of allowing debit card payments on pub gaming machines.

Currently, the Gaming Machine (Circumstances of Use) Regulations 2007 prohibit the use of debit cards for direct payments to gaming machines, and prohibit any use of credit cards. The direct use of contactless mobile systems such as Google Pay or Apple Pay on gaming machines is also prohibited, as they are an extension of card payment.

When introduced, the purpose of these debit card rules was to protect players, because cash-only gambling was assumed to give players more control by providing natural interruptions in play to obtain more cash.

However, the new UK Gov consultation notes that since those rules were put in place, the use of card payments has increased greatly across society and in many settings cash is now a rarity.

This has put ‘land-based’ gambling at a distinct disadvantage to the burgeoning online gambling industry, where cashless payments flow freely.

The government noted that ‘land-based’ gambling has a significantly larger workforce than online gambling, employing an estimated 80,500 people, and was thus a sector worthy of being given at least a level playing field.

There has been a decline in gaming machine usage in alcohol licensed premises, as detailed in evidence submitted by the British Beer and Pub Association, which shows a post-Covid decline in both the percentage of pubs with machines and those machines weekly income.

Between 2019 and 2021, there was a decrease in the percentage of Landlord & Tenant pubs with gaming machines – from 60% to just over 40% – as well as a decrease in the percentage of Managed pubs with gaming machines – from 80% to around 65%.

Over this same period, the weighted average weekly income from gaming machines for Landlord & Tenant pubs fell from around £215 to approximately £190, whilst for Managed pubs this fell from around £230 to approximately £180.

UK Gov said that anecdotal industry evidence suggests payment methods are a factor in this decline in machine usage, as pub goers now pay for food and drink by card but might have previously played a machine using spare change.

“The introduction of direct forms of cashless payments on gaming machines, subject to suitable safeguards, therefore represents an opportunity to future-proof the land-based gambling industry,” said the consultation.

Responding In a joint statement, UKHospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association said: “This consultation is a welcome step towards a much needed review of issues that could protect the longevity of safe and enjoyable gaming in pubs.

“UKH and BBPA work closely on gaming issues and our joint group will feed in via the associations, no doubt with one voice and unanimity.”