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Gambling Commission wins Upper Tribunal appeal over bingo in pubs

The Gambling Commission has won an appeal to the Upper Tribunal over whether it acted within its powers in refusing to grant Greene King an operating licence to provide commercial bingo in its pubs.

Greene King argued that the Commission had exceeded its powers when it refused to grant a licence enabling the pub chain to offer bingo as well as high stakes (1) B3 and B4 gaming machines in some of its pubs.

Greene King also claimed that the Commission’s refusal trespassed on the territory of licensing authorities carrying out their premises licensing function.

The First-tier Tribunal had concluded that the Commission had no power to refuse the licence because its concerns were about what would happen in the premises, and the premises were a matter for local licensing authorities.

However, in the Upper Tribunal Judge Howard Levenson ruled that the Commission had the legal power to refuse an application for an operating licence if it considered granting the application would not be reasonably consistent with the licensing objectives.

The judge said that in light of relevant provisions, “it cannot really be the case that when such matters are at issue the legislation, having established the Commission and detailed its responsibilities, then requires the Commission to step back in individual applications and let the multitude of local licensing authorities deal with these national policy issues on a case by case basis.

“Neither can it be the case that in pursuit of such national policy objectives the Commission is required to conduct some kind of guerrilla warfare in each separate locality. That would run the risk of undermining the kind of approach approved in the Gibraltar case and of not controlling betting activities in a ‘consistent and systematic manner’.”

Judge Levenson continued: “The Commission’s concern, although referring to pub premises because such premises were the subjects of the applications, was fundamentally about the availability of high or higher stakes gambling to those whose better judgment might be affected by alcohol. It seems to me that the First-tier Tribunal was in error in failing to approach the Commission’s decision in this way.”

He ordered the case to be sent back to the First-tier Tribunal for reconsideration of whether the Commission’s decision was correct on its merits.

Helen Venn, Commission programme director, said: "We welcome the Upper Tribunal’s decision, which clarifies the Commission’s powers.

“In our view commercial betting, gaming and bingo and any associated high stakes and prize machines, should only be provided in separate premises licensed for that specific purpose – premises that adults make a deliberate choice to visit in order to gamble.”

Philip Kolvin QC of Cornerstone Barristers and Christopher Knight of 11KBW appeared for the Commission.

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