Agenda item

Minutes:

The Committee received a report on the Draft Statement of Licensing Policy under the Gambling Act 2005 with accompanying appendices.

 

In accordance with the Gambling Act 2005 (the ‘Act’), Buckinghamshire Council, in its role as Licensing Authority, was responsible for authorising certain gambling activities at premises used for gambling purposes by the issue of premises licences and permits. Under section 349 of the Act, the Licensing Authority was required to prepare and publish a Statement of Licensing Policy which sets out its approach to the consideration and determination of applications made under the Act and any subsequent necessary compliance and enforcement action. The Council’s Licensing Service was currently operating under separate legacy policies and fees, reflecting the four legacy district council areas. Under the terms of the transitional legislation, Buckinghamshire Council had two years to prepare and publish a new single policy under the Act and align service provision. The deadline for publication and implementation of the new Policy was no later than 1 April 2022.

 

The Principal Licensing Officer reported that any gambling activity should be consistent with the licensing objectives which were to prevent gambling from being a source of crime and disorder, ensuring it was conducted in a fair and open way and protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed. The Gambling Act was very prescriptive about what should be contained in Council’s policies and there was not much room for local discretion. In Buckinghamshire, apart from fruit machines in public houses, there were 78 betting premises and 14 other premises which were licensed for gambling. Once approved the draft policy would be subject to a consultation exercise for six weeks.

 

She informed Members that the Gambling Commission dealt with the regulation of any online gambling. Operators of gambling shops were the most likely to be affected by any Gambling Policy. Reference was also made to Local Area Profiles which provided clarity for operators as to the relevant factors in licensing authority decision making and helped Councils make robust and fair decisions. The policy set out measures to prevent harm and were included throughout the policy. One of the biggest concerns was the use of fixed-odds betting terminals which were located in betting shops but the stakes for these were reduced in 2019 from a maximum of £100 to £2. The majority of betting shops in Buckinghamshire were national chains who had robust policies in place. In terms of casinos the Government had set aside a number of licences across the UK for large and small casinos but not all of the planned casinos had been subsequently built.  There was currently no provision legally to grant any further casino licences.

 

In terms of fees some of them needed to be set locally within the maximum fee bands, other fees such as small society lotteries and gaming machine permits were set by central government. Gambling fees needed to be set on a cost neutral basis. The proposed annual fee for betting shops was £415 which amounted to a reduction of £185 for the Chiltern and South Bucks areas and a small increase of £15 for the Wycombe area and a slightly larger increase for the Aylesbury area.

 

During discussion the following points were raised:

  • A Member of the Committee asked why casino licenses that had been issued but not used had not been made available to other bidders. The Principal Licensing Officer explained that the intention had been that those casinos would be built and there had been no further review of the casino licencing process since the Gambling Act 2005 came into effect, questions and concerns could be addressed to the Department for  Culture, Media & Sport.
  •  It was confirmed that adult gaming centres referred to areas of 18+ restricted machines, such as those seen at motorway service stations. Family entertainment centres referred to areas with lower risk machines aimed at younger people, such as penny slots and pier arcades.
  • The fees proposed were not at the maximum level. A Member of the Committee asked why the Council did not set fees at the highest rate possible with a review after 12 months. They felt this would prevent any possibility of public funds subsidising gambling if the fees were too low. The Principal Licensing Officer stated there had been significant research into the proposed fees and coupled with the proposal to review fees after 12 months the risk of subsidisation was extremely low.. A comment was made that one area of gambling which benefitted communities was bingo halls otherwise gambling could have a detrimental impact. It was stated that should fees be found to be too low at review they could be increased to recoup costs making the process cost neutral over a 3-year period.
  • A Member of the Committee asked why many other areas included in the benchmarking had much higher fees. The Principal Licensing Officer stated that she was comfortable that the fees were supported by officer research and suggested that other authorities had set their fees at the maximum level which may not be justified if they were challenged. Many authorities had not reviewed their fees since they had been set in 2006.

 

On a vote being taken (proposed by Cllr Green and seconded by Cllr Jones) it was unanimously RESOLVED that:

 

  1. the draft Statement of Licensing Policy under the Gambling Act 2005 as set out at Appendix 1 of the report for a public consultation exercise be approved and;
  2. the draft fees as set out at Appendix 2 of the report be approved.
  3. the draft Local Area Profile at Appendix 3 of the report be noted.

 

Supporting documents: