- 15 February 2022
Under the current Gambling Act, there are few levers a local authority can use to challenge a licencing application they are concerned about, as local authorities are required to “aim to permit” new applications. However, based on experience from recent licensing applications, there are a number of ways to influence the outcome.
1. It is worth planning for the fact, that despite objections, the licence application will probably be successful under the current Gambling Act legal framework. However, preparing a set of licence conditions to apply to a successful licence can help protect vulnerable residents. Planning the detail of these conditions in advance of licencing panels may increase the likelihood that they are accepted. Conditions must be reasonable and justifiable, but it is worth being ambitious and negotiating. Here are some possibilities from recent panels:
- Restrictions to opening and closing times.
- Licence holders should be required to work with local authority and treatment partners in training their staff so that gambling harm prevention can be emphasised.
- Apply single manning operation restrictions (no lone working) due to concerns over timely age verification, safety of staff, supervision, ability to comply with company policies on problem gambling, and the ability to provide brief interventions.
- Use of security to minimise risk of disturbances including CCTV, physical security presence at the venue and whether security staff are SIA registered.
- Outline the amount and content of gambling harms support advertising that should be in the premises, including advertising of local treatment support.
- Specify the level of detail that should be collected in the incident log, including interventions made by staff to support customers who are gambling problematically. Define how often this information should be shared with the local authority.
2. Individuals making objections about the application should meet before the licencing panel to agree and coordinate their approach, helping strengthen their arguments. Supporting residents in how to best articulate their concerns could be a key part of this preparation, as well as discussing evidence they can draw on to support their arguments. Local counsellors are often well placed to offer insights into the local area and the impact a new establishment may have.
3. Presenting the public health evidence relating to a new application can be a powerful influencer and can help shape how the licencing panel think about gambling as a public health issue in the long term. Evidence which could be easily adapted for local areas includes:
- Existing density of existing gambling premises – further applications can lead to overconcentration of premises which may negatively impact vulnerable groups.
- The proximity of the new gambling establishment to schools/other locations with people vulnerable to harm e.g. gambling support clinic.
- Deprivation of the area – deprived groups are more vulnerable to gambling harm; if the application is in a deprived area it is worth highlighting this.
- Estimated prevalence of gambling harm for that type of area, as well as treatment numbers from the NHS and GamCare provider.
4. The company applying for the licence may present a crime impact assessment for the area. It is useful to understand exactly when their crime observations were carried out e.g. during lockdown or weekdays when footfall may be low. Gathering and presenting your own local crime and antisocial behaviour data for the area can help highlight any issues to the licencing panel.
5. Depending on the application venue, consider where the evidence being presented to support the application relates to that venue type or not. For example, licence applications may present evidence around gambling venues not causing disturbances or harm, but this may not necessarily hold for the type of venue they are applying for, such as an adult gaming centre.
6. Most licence applicants will hire experienced solicitors and QCs to argue their case who are experts, well prepared and extremely articulate. They can dominate the discussion as a result. Time allocations throughout the agenda with disciplined chairing will allow resident’s voices and a more balanced argument to be heard. All hearings should be fair with equal time being given to both applicant and objector.
7. In some cases, licence applicants are sending masses of additional information prior to the hearing. Any additional information must be sent with enough time for all parties to read it, and therefore if it is presented on the day or at very short notice, it can be objected to, via the Chair of the committee.
8. With regards to information and policies that show how the applicant mitigate concerns around problem gambling, consider if the new venue’s staffing plan would allow these policies and procedures to be implemented in practice.
Venue licencing and the Gambling Act review
Much of the narrative around the proposed changes to the Gambling Act rightly relates to the regulation of online gambling. However, it is important not to forget how changes to the Act could help strengthen local authorities’ decision-making powers over new venue licence applications, allowing them to better protect vulnerable communities from gambling harms.
- Applicant’s legal teams make strong arguments that under no circumstances can applications be rejected on “moral grounds”. Residents engaging with the licencing process can appear to be objecting on moral grounds if they use phrases such “we don’t want another gambling premises in our area”, which under the ‘moral rule’, can’t be considered. Future legislation should allow the concerns of residents about new gambling premises to be more effectively considered, particularly if residents highlight that new establishments may negatively impact their wellbeing or harm their local community.
- The Gambling Act should include a public health principle. This would legislate the need to consider evidence relating to gambling harms as part of a Gambling Licencing decision; currently not required. This could also require that density of venues and proximity to vulnerable groups should be considerations in licencing decisions.
- Recent experience from Leeds, Tameside and London suggests, anecdotally, that there is an increase in the number of adult gaming centres, countering the downward trend in the number of bookmakers following FOBT legislation changes. There is little specific reference to adult gaming centres in the current Gambling Act, but they should be emphasised in a new version.
Despite the difficulty in challenging a new licence application, it is still possible to have a genuine impact on how a new venue operates if the licence is approved. Future changes to the Gambling Act should give local authorities more autonomy to protect their communities from further gambling harms relating to new venues opening in their areas.