Out-Law News 4 min. read

Councils to be given greater power to curb betting shop numbers as other player protections outlined

Gambling operators in England and Wales will have to obtain local planning permission to convert old banks, estate agencies and restaurants into betting shops in future under plans announced by the UK government.

The measure is designed to give greater power to local authorities to control the number of high street betting shops in their area, it said. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is to formally consult on the plans as part of a wider consultation on planning law issues this summer.

"As part of the government’s broader planning reform, a smaller planning use class containing betting shops will mean that in future where it is proposed to convert a bank, building society or estate agent into a betting shop, a planning application will be required," the government said. "In addition, the government will remove the ability for other premises such as restaurants and pubs to change use to a betting shop without planning permission. All changes of use to a betting shop will therefore require planning permission in future."

Craig Connal QC, a litigation and compliance expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-law.com, said: "Existing planning legislation in England and Wales, and separately in Scotland, lays out different classifications on the use of property. Traditionally betting shops have fallen within the same 'use class' as banks which has meant that gambling operators have been attracted towards converting old banks or building society branches into betting shops because doing so did not constitute a change of use of the property and so did not require fresh planning consent from local authorities."

"Under the new plans, gambling operators will have to jump through the planning permission hoops in every case where they intend to open a new shop. The approach could potentially see the number of betting shops curbed in areas where there is a lot of local hostility towards them. However, at a time when banks are increasing shutting branches and moving business online local authorities face a challenge in balancing views that oppose the proliferation of betting shops with the need to ensure that retail units on the high street do not lie empty," he said.

Connal said that separate legislation would need to be introduced in Scotland to affect the same changes the government intends to make to planning rules in England and Wales.

In its policy paper (9-page / 164KB PDF) the government also said that it would promote new guidance being developed by the Gambling Commission on how local authorities can hold gambling operators to "their social responsibility commitments".

Gambling operators wishing to open a betting shop need to obtain both an operating licence from the Gambling Commission and a premises licence from the relevant local authority. The Commission issues non-remote operating licences to bookmakers who wish to take bets over-the-counter, and remote operating licences for those who offer online services, such as on a computer or through self-service betting terminals situated in a high-street betting shop.

One of the general conditions for any non-remote betting licence is that the operator can install up to four gaming machines in its shop only if the 'primary gambling activity' is betting.

As well as outlining a tightening of planning rules, the government also proposed a number of new protections and controls for users of certain gaming machines. Gambling operators will have to introduce the measures to comply with their duties towards socially responsible gambling.

"The government intends to: require those accessing higher stakes (over £50) to use account-based play or load cash over the counter," the joint policy statement issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the DCLG said. "Requiring better interaction between customer and operator for those engaged in high stake play improves opportunities for more effective provision of information and interventions."

"To support this measure government wants: all larger betting shop operators to offer account based play. This will allow account holders to track and monitor their own play via statements, and enable targeted interventions in accordance with operators’ licence conditions," it added.

Gambling law expert Audrey Ferrie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "The introduction of account based play will place a heavier onus on gambling operators to flag up potential problem gamblers on the basis that there will be a record of those individuals' betting activity which will likely have to be made available to the Gambling Commission as part of their audit of operators' compliance with the licensing conditions on social responsibility."

The government said that it believes the measures will help players to reduce the bias or irrationality in their "gambling-related decisions" and help them keep track of their expenditure. It said it expects larger gambling operators "to encourage take up among their customers",

Earlier this year the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) introduced a new code on responsible gambling which its members have voluntarily signed up to. Under the code, gambling operators have to deploy technology in their gaming machines to display reminders to customers when they have spent £250, and every £250 thereafter. Mandatory time-based reminders must also pop up on customers' screens every half an hour.

In its policy statement, however, the government reiterated its previous position that the voluntary measures should be "toughened and made mandatory". The Gambling Commission is already in the midst of reviewing existing licensing conditions and is set to outline plans to require gambling operators to compel players to pre-set spend limits on gaming machines and ensure "regular warning messages and pauses in play".

The government also announced a number of steps are being taken to review and potentially update existing rules on gambling advertising. It hinted that it may use powers under the Gambling Act to release new regulations on gambling advertising.

Among the work going on at the moment is a review of the "latest evidence" that underpins UK gambling advertising rules by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), the bodies that write those rules. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will also "report on the proportionality, robustness and consistency of its enforcement action on the gambling rules", the government said.

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