Bacta calls for greater flexibility to future-proof amusements sector

| By Nosa Omoigui
The British Amusement Catering Trade Association (Bacta) has called for a ‘regulatory sandbox’ to allow the amusements sector to trial new products and solutions.
Bacta president calls for innovation in gaming industry

Speaking at its annual general meeting, Bacta president Greg Wood said the sector was “currently restrained, restricted, and controlled by outdated and blunt legislation”. 

As a result, the association has called for a new, two-step process, or regulatory sandboxes, for machine development in its submission to the UK government’s call for evidence as it reviews the 2005 Gambling Act. This, he explained, would give operators greater impetus and flexibility to create new products and services.

“We must have the opportunity to try and develop new ideas in the real world,” Wood said. “Our position is that we need flexibility, to introduce and enable this innovation.

“This is where our approach for a two-stage process or regulatory sandboxes for development comes in; setting the legislation up for the future, giving the ability to test new machines in venues, and to review the data and impacts of this in a controlled way. This will allow us to then provide the data that we are always asked for, but so far have been unable to provide on new concepts and technologies.”

In addition, he said regular reviews of stakes and prizes should be reintroduced, arguing that since these assessments were stopped operators have had less scope to update their products. Lifting the ban on debit card payments directly to machines was “critical” he said, after Covid-19 shifted the UK towards a cashless society.

Other requests include a subdivision of category C gaming machines for the development of new products, as the current category C parameters allow for machines to be used in an alcohol licensed premises and members clubs with a £1 maximum stake and a £100 maximum prize.

The number of gaming machines permitted in an alcohol licensed premises should be increased from two to four – while removing the requirement for a notification for the local authority – and allowing linked jackpots in all venues.

Wood went on to highlight a number of successes of the past year, such as Bacta’s role in guiding the industry through Covid-19 enforced lockdowns and increased investment across gaming divisions.

Bacta also launched a Technical Standards Working Group in August, designed to ensure regular reviews of gaming machine industry standards.

He also admitted that there had been a number of setbacks. In particular he picked out the failure to secure a 5% value added tax (VAT) rate for seaside hospitality, and delays in the reopening of adult gaming centres following Covid-19 lockdowns. He also said there had been a lack of formal support for the amusements sector’s supply chain from the government.

“Learning and using these experiences to help us move forward, and to borrow a phrase from Boris, we need to build back better,” Wood added.

“With most of us looking forward at how we can rebuild, reinvent, and continue to offer the best to our customers, the building back better has already started. It is amazing to see the levels of investment that have already been made post reopening.”

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