We have previously published advice to LAs about unlicensed family entertainment centres (uFECs).
An unlicensed family entertainment centre is only entitled to make category D machines available. This is reflected by the very light touch form of regulation provided by the uFEC permit issued by the LA. The entity making machines available on the premises (the arcade operator) does not need a Gambling Commission operating licence. However, the entity supplying machines to the business (the machine supplier) must be licensed by the Commission.
This is different from a licensed family entertainment centre which is entitled to make both category C and D machines available. It is subject to similar controls to many other gambling businesses – the premises need a full premises licence from the LA and the entity making machines available on the premises requires a Commission operating licence, as does the supplier of the machines.
Only premises that are wholly or mainly used for making gaming machines available may hold a uFEC gaming machine permit or an FEC premises licence. Both a licensed FEC and an uFEC are classified as premises.
As a result, it is generally not permissible for such premises to correspond to an entire shopping centre, airport, motorway service station or similar. Typically, the machines would be in a designated, enclosed area. A more detailed explanation of what constitutes ‘a premises’ can be found in Guidance to licensing authorities (GLA).
Gaming machines, which should be contained within the uFEC or FEC premises, should not be located in corridors and walkways which form part of the larger building.
LA issued uFECs permits have effect for 10 years unless they are surrendered or lapse, for example permits that were first granted in 2009 expire in 2019. Because of the length of time which permits have been in place a number of LAs have been able to take into account our guidance when considering whether to renew uFEC permits when their original period of grant lapses.
This was the case in Fife where, Category D gaming machines had been placed by operators in the corridors of two local shopping centres. These machines were the subject of permits granted by the LA. The uFEC permits were due come up for renewal in the early part of this year. When the Licensing Board considered the guidance from the Commission and reviewed the locations of the machines it wrote to machine operators signalling that the Board would not grant any uFEC permit renewal applications for those locations. Subsequently, the operator withdrew the machines that were sited there. This was later verified by the LA.
This case demonstrates that licensing authorities can act in response to Commission guidance using their powers under the Gambling Act 2005 to have operators remove gaming machines sited under unlicensed family entertainment centre (uFEC) permits, even where they have been originally granted and have been in place for a number of years.