By Josie Clarke, Press Association Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Almost 90% of pubs in England are failing to stop children gambling on their premises, a study by the regulator suggests.
The Gambling Commission said tests on 61 pubs in England found that 89% did not prevent children from using 18-plus gaming machines.
The commission said the figure was significantly worse than the 15% to 30% failure rate seen in other industries selling age-restricted products such as alcohol or tobacco.
The “uniformly poor” results did not vary significantly between licensing authorities or between larger pub companies and independents, the regulator said.
In a letter to the pub industry, the commission writes: “We urgently call the industry and their trade associations to take the results as a serious indication of the need to improve matters.
“We expect that the action taken will be reflected in significant improvements in future test results.”
Children are not permitted to play Category C gaming machines – those with a maximum stake of £1 and a maximum payout of £100 – in pubs.
Staff are expected to stop children playing on the machines and there should be clear signage indicating the age restriction.
Helen Rhodes, programme director at the Gambling Commission, said: “We are extremely concerned that pubs across England are failing to stop children playing gaming machines designed for adults.
“We urgently call on the pub sector to take action immediately to enforce the laws in place to protect children and young people.
“We expect to see significant improvement in further tests and will continue to work with licensing authorities to support any action required against those failing to adhere to the requirements.”
Simon Blackburn, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “If these findings reflect the wider pub industry’s ability to ensure responsible oversight of adult-only gaming machines, that would be extremely concerning.
“It is vital our children and young people are kept safe and protected from the problems gambling can cause.
“Pub managers must be as vigilant about under-age gambling as they are about under-age drinking. It is completely unacceptable to turn a blind eye to children playing gaming machines that are restricted to over-18s, which risks young people becoming addicted to gambling.”
On Wednesday, the Government made a U-turn over the timing of a cut to maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in the face of a revolt by MPs.
A reduction in the top wager from £100 to just £2 to combat problem gambling will now come into force in April, after more than 70 MPs set out to sabotage Treasury plans to push it back to October.
British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “We are committed to keeping the pub a safe and friendly environment for families, so we take these interim findings very seriously.
“We have ensured that all of our members are aware of both the BBPA’s and Gambling Commission’s codes of practice and we are already taking steps to develop a social charter for responsible gambling, for use by licensees and pub companies.
“However, given the importance of this issue, we are seeking urgent meetings with the Gambling Commission and local authorities to ensure appropriate action is taken.”