The Grand Pier at the popular Somerset seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare is trialling a summer-long ban on children who are not accompanied by an adult using some of their fruit machines. The temporary embargo is aimed specifically at under 16’s who will not be allowed to play Category D machines, those with a stake of up to 10p a go and prizes of up to £5 a spin, at participating arcades.
Category D machines also include penny pushers, claw machines and ticket redemption games, although these will be unaffected during the trial. At the moment, the trial is running voluntary nationwide as part of a campaign to tackle teenage gambling and, if it proves to be successful, then all arcade owners could be forced to comply.
This is according to The British Amusement Catering Trade Association (Bacta), who are running the trial having voted unanimously to employ new measures on slot machines that payout in cash in UK seaside arcades. The new rules will be placed on stickers attached to the affected fruit machines informing customers of the rule change.
John White, from Bacta, said;
“As providers of family entertainment to nearly twenty million people annually, it is important we reflect what our customers want. We have listened carefully to the ongoing debate about children and gambling and we want to ensure we do everything we can to augment our existing safeguarding measures. The Grand Pier has 45 of these types of slot machine and said staff would supervise to ensure that customers comply with the trial.”
Tim Moyle of The Grand Pier admitted that arcades are a staple of British seaside holidays and that they did not wish to spoil anybody’s fun but that it ultimately agreed that it was critical that all risks to children are minimised as much as possible so it had decided to support Bacta’s aims even if research showed that the risk of gambling-related harm from seaside arcades was very low.
Most Common Route To Gambling
While parents often deem fruit machines as harmless distractions for their kids, especially over the school holidays, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) says certain types of slot machines are the most common route to gambling for children.
Referencing fruit machines in pubs or arcades, the UKGC also laid the blame on betting shops and online gambling sites, despite them being illegal for under-18’s, as well as video game loot boxes which can involve players paying money for a reward.
This warning is based on a 2018 Ipsos Mori study of 2,865 11 to 16-year-olds that showed that the number children with gambling problems has quadrupled to over 50,000 in the space of just two years.
The study also revealed that 450,000 children bet regularly, while a further 70,000 children are at risk of developing problems, before making the connection between youths that gamble and drugs and alcohol.
Comparisons To Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
Campaigners against unsupervised under 16’s playing on fruit machines have consistently argued the case for the similarity between fruit machines and Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
Fruit machines have long been views as innocent child fun in the UK. While pubs and sectioned off zones in arcades are designed for over 18’s only, many machines, those deemed category D, are considered by some to be appropriate for younger age groups. And yet the UKGC have warned that higher stakes fruit machines are routinely being played by children as pubs turn a blind eye. Some 90% of pubs have admitted failing to stop minors gambling on their premises.
Another problem is that many online slots feature fun cartoon designs and in some cases cartoon television characters, such as Top Cat, Inspector Gadget, Monopoly and Top Trumps, helping to blur the lines between what’s appropriate for minors and what isn’t even more.
Back in April, confectionery giant Mars caved to public pressure to remove a chocolate dispenser that awarded M&M’s in the style of a slot-machine game. This move was after MPs and one Australian academic accused the toy of normalising gambling for children.
The product was available for purchase at the M&M’s World store in London’s Leicester Square and worked much like a traditional one-armed bandit gambling machine where users pull the lever to spin the reels and gift chocolate. If a user lined up a match on the reels, the machine would spit out a greater number of M&M’s.
The product was spotted by Dr Samantha Thomas, a youth gambling expert and associate professor at Deakin University, Australia who noted;
“While these products seem like innocent toys, they have the potential to normalise gambling as a fun activity for children.
Our research shows that children are often unable to understand the risks associated with slot machines. They remember the bright lights and positive sounds associated with the machines, and think they are a fun way to make money.
Combining the winning features of a slot machine with such a well-recognised candy brand and cartoon characters certainly may give children the perception that these are machines that are about wins rather than losses.
Given the concern about the normalisation of gambling for children, I would think that M&M’s would have exercised better judgment about the suitability of this product for children”.
Initially, Mars initially dismissed MPs’ concerns before reversing their position and pulling the product from sale.