It would be an understatement to say that it’s not been an easy time for bingo operators. But, with the light at the end of the tunnel, now’s the time to get ready to thrive in 2021.
One of the things set to impact all operators this year is the government’s ongoing review of the Gambling Act. With a whitepaper expected by the end of the year, operators would be wise to put in processes and procedures to ensure they are in good shape ahead of any changes.
Customer and age verification play a key part in the current Act and will continue to do so in any revised or new versions. Effective verification is crucial to protect businesses from not only underage, but also problem or prohibited gamblers. Plus, with many bingo venues also selling other age restricted products it can be easy to get into hot water if age verification isn’t taken seriously.
Worryingly, underage gambling is on the rise. Research from GambleAware last year revealed that over 50% of UK 17-year-olds are participating in some form of gambling activity: concerning as the legal gambling age is 18. At ACCS, age verification is something we’re currently supporting The Bingo Association with, having partnered with them since February 2020 to implement an industry-leading age verification programme. As part of this, we’re helping to initiate a test purchasing exercise to prove that BA members conform to the highest industry standards of underage gambling prevention.
Our service ensures that rigorous age check practices are followed by providers of age-restricted goods, content and services, through a combination of robust processes, custom-built technology and a team of fully qualified trading standards and audit professionals.
While our work with the BA was put temporarily on hold due to lockdown, we’ve now fully restarted test purchasing, checking that establishments comply with the relevant legislation, while also assessing its due diligence and monitoring activities. We’ll then compile test reports for each operator. These reports are recognised by the UK Gambling Commission and international regulators as evidence that age verification requirements are in place and being met. The data that we gather as part of the tests will also help The Bingo Association to perform statistical analysis that pinpoints how age verification processes can be further improved.
Tackling problem areas
In our work with the BA, we’re organising and delivering the tests, as well as providing advice, highlighting problem areas and creating tailored solutions.
Problem areas can be far-reaching, and from our experience to date can vary significantly from operator to operator. Firstly, the fact there are often multiple services within a bingo club that require age verification can pose a problem. While the industry tends to choose to apply a no under-18s policy, this isn’t the case across the board. We recommend that age checking takes place at the door and inside clubs and that age check posters and signage are displayed, to create an expectation of challenge – particularly in the case of those operators that do allow under-18s on the premises.
Also, how employees are trained to deal with age verification varies significantly from venue to venue, meaning consistent training for them is imperative. However, this doesn’t always happen and can vary in quality. As a minimum, you should regularly remind your employees of the rules concerning age restricted goods, but to be fully protected, it would be wise to put staff through a structured training programme when they begin their role. Any training programme should use certified materials and be recorded.
Achieving consistency across multiple branches can also be tricky: a poor performing branch in a chain can damage reputation across the board. Again, here it can help to put in place consistent processes across all branches and regularly refresh training programmes. We recommend that all sites are checked quarterly.
As bingo operators plan for the future, and hopefully a fruitful year, they must ensure they have appropriate age check processes in place. All operators have a responsibility to prevent underage gambling within the licensed bingo industry, and this will only become more important as a spotlight is shone on the sector during the gambling review this year.