The British gaming and gambling industry is a resilient one. But then it has to be. Five years waiting for a Triennial Review, and almost nothing comes out of it to bolster business operations. But where there’s a glimmer…industry stalwarts Nick Harding, John Stergides and Peter Hannibal respond.
A missed opportunity to bring the whole gaming industry into the 21st century” is how Peter Hannibal, chief executive of the Gambling Business Group, described the Consultation Document published by DCMS this week. As a result of focussing almost obsessively on B2 machines, Hannibal believes that a number of essential issues for key gambling sectors have been given only the very briefest acknowledgement possible in the consultation document. He explained: “In the Minister’s own opening statement she declares; ‘The Government’s objective in initiating this review was to ensure we have the right balance between a sector that can grow and contribute to the economy, while also ensuring it is socially responsible and doing all it should to protect consumers and communities, including those who are just about managing.’”
But it’s this declaration that Hannibal finds hard to reconcile with the final consultation document, as he confirmed: “It is difficult to find this ‘balance’ reflected in the Government’s proposals, meaning much of the industry is now confined to out of date restrictions for the foreseeable future.”
The wave of disappointment among industry leaders was hard to discount. Veteran manufacturer John Stergides of Electrocoin, a campaigner for the machines industry for decades, was concerned at the lack of content to support the industry in what are going to be uncertain times. “‘Following discussions, I was expecting a new category B5, offering multi stake games with entertainment. There appears to be no mention of this,” he contested.
And he wasn’t alone. Bacta were very quick to seize on this specific omission. But ever optimistic, Stergides did see an opportunity for the amusements and gaming industry to drive consistency across the genres – and right a wrong that has hurt the high street arcades badly. He explained: “Today’s announcement, although a step in the right direction, leaves the door open for the FOBT issue to be fudged. The options on offer make me fearful that the bookmakers will use their influence once again to escape a set of new stakes and prizes that the rest of the industry has to adhere to. It is my opinion that when the voluntary £50 cap was introduced, the level of customer participation did not drop, so why should a similar mandatory figure above £2 have any impact?”
Equally keen to pursue this avenue was Nick Harding, CEO of Praesepe, who was in no mood to see the government sidestep the issue of FOBTs and backed the industry’s commitment to social responsibility efforts. “I am delighted that we have passed another milestone on the road towards achieving a level playing field on the high street and are now moving towards achieving the most important tenet of the 2005 Gambling Act, namely protection of the vulnerable,” Harding stated. “It is clear to me that a £2 stake is the most appropriate level for UK gaming machines at the present time and we will support that. We shall also seek to contribute towards the debate on further improvements in player protection measures on gaming machines.”
However, if a £2 stake was the way forward, Stergides offered a firm perspective which will clearly open debate. Never one to shirk controversy, Stergides posed the direct question which will now be in the minds of his fellow colleagues: “There are no grounds for the betting shops and AGC’s not to have parity at the current £2 stake level. They are both controlled, 18 plus environments, with high street access and with no membership required. Therefore they should be offering customers the same experience regarding gaming machine play. It is time to act decisively!”