1.1 When the Gambling Act 2005 (the Act) came into force in late 2007, it brought in a new, comprehensive system for gambling regulation in Great Britain. For the first time, the vast majority of commercial gambling was brought together into a single regulatory framework. The Act established a dedicated regulator, at a national level, in the form of the Gambling Commission (the Commission). But it also recognised the potential local impact and importance of gambling. So it created many local regulators, whose job it is to manage gambling locally, in line with local circumstances. Those regulators are the 380 licensing authorities of England, Wales and Scotland. In doing so, the Act established a strong element of local decision-making and accountability in gambling regulation.
1.2 The Act gives local regulators very broad discretion to manage local gambling provision, including discretion as to the level of fees set to cover the cost of administering the local system of regulation. It sets out some boundaries to that discretion, consistent with the recognition of gambling as a mainstream leisure activity.
1.3 The Act also provides scope for the Commission to act to set an overall direction at national level, while leaving licensing authorities in the lead locally, with appropriate support from the Commission. This Guidance, to which licensing authorities must have regard, is an important part of those arrangements.
1.4 The Commission works in partnership with licensing authorities to regulate gambling. In doing so, the Commission will tend to focus on operators and issues of national or regional significance, and licensing authorities will take the lead on regulating gambling locally. The Commission and licensing authorities may work directly together on particular issues, for example where it may establish a precedent or help build capacity and learning to be rolled out more widely.
1.5 The Commission draws on, and shares, the intelligence and insights of its regulatory partners, in particular licensing authorities, who may well be better positioned to identify emerging risks to the licensing objectives or instances of illegality which can start at a local level. By working closely together we are able to prevent such risks growing into a more widespread problem and to ensure that both Commission and licensing authority resources are used efficiently.
1.6 In the Commission’s view, the statutory duty to aim to permit gambling, subject to reasonable consistency with the licensing objectives, is best delivered through partnership working between industry and regulator, including licensing authorities. Licensing authorities should aim to work with local businesses to reduce the risk to the licensing objectives to acceptable levels. The Act does not envisage regulation by either the Commission or licensing authorities being aimed at preventing legitimate gambling.
1.7 Further, the Commission was not established, and is not resourced, to lead on local gambling regulation. Licensing authorities have the power to collect fees, subject to statutory maxima, to cover the costs of local gambling regulation. In addition, local regulation is more cost effective and licensing authorities are better placed to understand and manage local issues. So, while the Commission aims to adopt a position of support and assistance for licensing authorities in carrying out their functions, that is in the context of licensing authorities taking the lead on local regulation of gambling.
1.8 This is reflected in the Commission’s approach to representations on premises licence applications. Neither licensing authorities nor operators should take the absence of a specific representation on particular application as indicating the Commission’s approval of that application. However, exceptionally, where an application for a premises licence, or the operation of a current premises licence, raises matters of wider or national significance, the Commission will consider making representations or requesting a licence review. The Commission may also comment on an application if it has particular observations about an operator. The Commission will aim to work with the relevant licensing authority in formulating any representation it wishes to make.
1.9 In many instances, effective outcomes will depend on close co-operation and communication between the Commission and licensing authorities. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for every licensing decision rests with the licensing authority itself, in line with the principle of local accountability.
1.10 To facilitate co-operation, the Commission has established a Local Authority Liaison Unit. The Unit is available to advise licensing authorities on matters relating to gambling regulation (contact us). It coordinates a series of activities designed to promote more effective gambling regulation, for example workshops and training sessions for licensing authorities, regular up-to-date advice and support such as a series of quick guides on specific subjects. The Commission also publishes a monthly LA Bulletin, which aims to provide licensing authorities with up-to-date information on gambling and its regulation, and to share good practice.
1.11 The Commission also has in place a small network of field-based staff. An important part of their role is to facilitate effective working relationships between the Commission and licensing authorities.
1.12 As well as working directly with individual licensing authorities, the Commission seeks to engage frequently with representative bodies such as the Local Government Association (LGA), the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators (SOLAR), and the Institute of Licensing (IoL). These meetings provide opportunities to review regulatory policy and to discuss emerging trends and issues of concern.
1.13 Since the Act was introduced a great deal of collective experience and insight has been developed, enabling licensing authorities and the Commission to fulfil their roles within the shared regulatory system more effectively and efficiently. Case studies available in the LA toolkit provide examples of successful multi-agency initiatives undertaken by the Commission and its regulatory partners.
1.14 The primary legislation governing gambling in Great Britain is the Gambling Act 2005. It covers England, Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland, which has its own arrangements.
1.15 The overall approach of the Act is to state that gambling is unlawful in Great Britain, unless permitted by:
1.16 The Act establishes two comprehensive offences: providing facilities for gambling or using premises for gambling without the appropriate permission. Such permission may come from a licence, permit, or registration granted in accordance with the Act or from an exemption given by the Act. Where authority to provide facilities for gambling is granted, it is subject to varying degrees of regulation, depending on the type of gambling, the means by which it is conducted, and the people by whom and to whom it is offered.
1.17 The Act is designed, as far as possible, to be flexible and future-proof. In practice, this means that in many areas the Act sets a framework, with more detailed rules set out in regulations made under the Act.
1.18 In addition, the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 came into force on 1 November 2014 and amends the Act. It requires gambling operators that transact with or advertise to British consumers to obtain a licence from the Commission. The Act (as amended) has implications for remote operators and does not impact the powers or authority of licensing authorities.
1.19 The Act places a legal duty on both the Commission and licensing authorities to aim to permit gambling, in so far as it is considered to be reasonably consistent with the pursuit of the licensing objectives. The effect of this duty is that both the Commission and licensing authorities must approach their functions in a way that seeks to regulate gambling by using their powers, for example, powers to attach conditions to licences, to moderate its impact on the licensing objectives rather than by starting out to prevent it altogether.
1.20 The three licensing objectives (s.1 of the Act) which guide the way that the Commission and licensing authorities perform their functions and the way that gambling businesses carry on their activities, are:
1.21 The Commission and licensing authorities have a duty to pursue the licensing objectives, and we expect gambling business to deliver them.
1.22 The Commission has the power to issue two types of code of practice. The first is a social responsibility (SR) code. A SR code must be followed and has the force of a licence condition. The Commission may also issue ordinary codes (OC) which are intended to set out best industry practice. They are not mandatory but operators are expected to follow them unless they have alternative arrangements in place that they can demonstrate are equally effective.
1.23 S.153 of the Act requires licensing authorities, in exercising their functions, to have regard to any code of practice issued by the Commission. A full version of the Commission’s Licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP) is available on the Commission’s website.
1.24 Licensing authorities have a broad discretion to regulate local provision of gambling and the Act gives wide-ranging powers to do so. Those include the power:
1.25 In exercising its functions under the Act, s.153 states that the licensing authority shall aim to permit the use of premises for gambling in so far as it thinks it:
1.26 The ‘aim to permit’ framework provides wide scope for licensing authorities to impose conditions on a premises licence, reject, review or revoke premises licences where there is an inherent conflict with the relevant codes of practice, relevant guidance issued by the Commission, the licensing objectives or the licensing authorities own policy statement.
1.27 Licence conditions are one method by which it is possible to mitigate risks associated with a particular premises. The imposition of licence conditions might be prompted by locality specific concerns, for example the proximity of gambling premises to a school.
1.28 However, licensing authorities may also wish to have proactive engagement with local operators to mitigate risks to the licensing objectives. Such engagement can facilitate an open and constructive partnership which, in turn, can improve compliance and reduce regulatory costs. Engagement with operators should be prompted by justifiable concerns or in pursuit of the principles set out under s.153.
1.29 To reflect the breadth of licensing authority discretion, they are entitled to request such information from operators as they may require to make effective licensing decisions. The Act requires that an application must be accompanied by a minimum level of information (detailed in Part 7 of this guidance). In the Commission’s view, however, this does not preclude reasonable requests from licensing authorities for additional information to satisfy themselves that their licensing decision is reasonably consistent with the licensing objectives and the Commission’s codes. That information may include, for example, a suitable business plan or the operator’s own assessment of risk to the licensing objectives locally.
1.30 To improve the exchange of information between licensing authorities and operators, the Commission has introduced SR code provisions that require operators of premises-based businesses to conduct local risk assessments (SR 10.1.1), and an ordinary code provision that says licensees should share their risk assessments with licensing authorities in certain circumstances (OC 10.1.2).
1.31 The statement of licensing policy is a very important part of the architecture of local gambling regulation and it is expected that licensing authorities will use it to set out the local issues, priorities and risks that inform and underpin its approach to local regulation.
1.32 It provides the opportunity for licensing authorities to agree and set out how gambling is to be managed in different parts of the local authority area to deal with local concerns and issues. It provides clarity of expectation for licensees and prospective licensees about how their businesses are likely to be treated in different localities. The existence of a clear and agreed policy statement will provide greater scope for licensing authorities to work in partnership with local businesses, communities, and responsible authorities to identify and mitigate local risks to the licensing objectives.
1.33 The policy statement is the primary vehicle for setting out the licensing authority’s approach to regulation having taken into account local circumstances. It ensures that operators have sufficient awareness and understanding of the relevant licensing authority’s requirements and approach, including its’ view on local risks, to help them comply with local gambling regulation.
1.34 More detail on licensing authorities’ statement of licensing policy is set out at Part 6 of this guidance.
1.35 Licensing authorities are subject to some specific constraints in exercising their functions. As set out at paragraph 1.25, s.153 of the Act provides that licensing authorities shall aim to permit the use of premises for gambling in so far as they think it in accordance with the principles set out in s.153(a) to (d).
1.36 Therefore a licensing authority has no discretion to grant a premises licence where that would mean taking a course which it did not think accorded with the Guidance contained in this document, any relevant Commission code of practice, the licensing objectives or the licensing authority’s own policy statement.
1.37 In addition, the Act makes specific reference to factors that must not be considered by a licensing authority in exercising its functions under s.153:
1.38 As stated, licensing authorities have a broad discretion to regulate local provision of gambling and they have similar regulatory powers to the Commission with respect to their licensees, including the power to impose conditions and to review licences. They are not able to impose financial penalties but can impose fees relating to the costs of local regulation. They also have wider powers under legislation such as the Licensing Act 2003.
1.39 The Act gives licensing authorities a number of other important regulatory functions in relation to gambling. Their main functions are to:
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