I’ve been seeing a number of stories about Bingo halls re-zoning themselves into two separate premises to allow them to double up on the number of Class B3 machines they can get into one venue. There’s a loophole in the laws that allows this splitting of premises to happen, and many a Bingo hall is using this loophole to raise the number of machines they can get on their premises. One of the latest stories I’ve seen is of the Worcester Gala Bingo’s plans to split its premises, which has raised criticism from some quarters.
The local council are concerned about this loophole, and will be writing to the Gambling Commission to raise its concerns about this practice. The Worcester Gala Bingo is not alone in exploiting this loophole, a number of clubs are trying to raise their limits in this manner. Brett has already mentioned this in his corner, with concerns that the practice could impinge on the areas used for Bingo. That’s one concern, but I have some others that trouble me about this practice and the problems this short sighted exploitation could have for the wider industry.
Okay, I’ve mentioned my dislike of these high stakes machines here before. Their price range and the industry’s reliance on them is not healthy and at odds with the value-for-money tradition of Bingo. There seems to be a land rush on splitting clubs at the moment, with little consequence to the future implications of this practice. Once again, it’s a sticking plaster on Bingo’s greater problems in the retail environment.
In the past these machines have had a bad reputation for problem gambling. Certain elements of the press have taken it upon themselves to be the moral guardians when it comes to gambling (despite their own forays into the realm). If they decided to focus on the proliferation of these machines and the problems attached, it could bring a lot of negative publicity to the game, which already struggles with negative stereotypes and notions about it.
On top of this, the Gambling Commission may take a dim view of these practices and come down hard in the future as a result of giving an inch, and operators taking a mile. Complaints from local councils like Worcester, and bad press could cause a situation in the future where the Commission over-reacted and introduced new regulations that made the current ones look pretty tame. Given the industry’s reliance on these revenues and its inability to find other ways of monetising its intervals, this could be even more catastrophic than the Smoking Ban was supposed to be.
Personally I’d like to see the industry move away from these machines and develop other entertainments for customers that don’t carry the potentially addictive problems that the Class B3 machines come attached with. And I don’t just mean gaming entertainments, there could be a range of other money making side activities taking place in Bingo halls in the interval. Clubs and operators need to start innovating in this field rather than relying on this dubious money. Innovation could save the industry, but instead its spending its energies on loopholes like these rather than innovating.