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Arcades worth £500m
Published:  14 January, 2011

Britain’s amusement arcades are cutting part-time and casual staff, converting to bingo halls and all too often even closing their doors permanently. Yet they remain a big part of the country’s amusements industry, earning gross gambling profit (stakes less payouts) of nearly £0.5bn during 2009-10, according to the latest figures from the Gambling Commission.

It reveals that although only eight percent of the country’s total gross gambling profit of £5.7bn is delivered by amusement arcades, they represent 27 percent of the total number of operating licences issued – another indication of the place they still hold at the heart of the country’s gaming and amusements culture.

However, during the year the number of licences for adult gaming centres (AGCs) fell by about three percent, from 632 to 612, and for family entertainment centres (FECs) by more than 14 percent, from 319 to 274. Thirty-one AGCs were converted to bingo halls.

Yet surprisingly, the number of employees – in terms of full-time equivalents (FTEs) – actually rose in both sectors compared with the previous year, up one percent in AGCs to 13,300 and three percent in FECs to 5550. Total headcount was down in both categories, indicating more full-time and fewer part-time workers. The number of casual workers also slumped dramatically, with the maximum across the two sectors standing at around 3400 in 2010, against 5200 a year earlier.

In all there were just over 144,000 machines in arcades, with the biggest share in terms of installed numbers taken by Category C (51,000), Category D (46,000), Category B2 (32,000) and Category B3 (12,000). About 2000 Category B1 machines and a handful of Category B4 units made up the balance.

Eighty-one percent of the arcade market, by gross gaming profit, was held by AGCs and 19 percent by FECs. In AGCs, the total gross profit of £384m was largely down to £87m from Category B3 machines and £79m from Category C devices, while Category D contributed £29m. In FECs, most of the £88m gross profit came from Category D units, accounting for £63m.

Self-exclusions from arcades were slightly down by three percent in AGCs, to 2600, and by 12 percent in FECs, to 176. Breaches of self-exclusions were substantially reduced in both sectors.

The report – which notes that some figures are provisional or estimated – also highlights the importance of amusement machines in other gaming venues, especially bookmakers.

In betting shops, there were around 33,000 gaming machines, virtually all of them Category B2, producing a gross profit of £1.29bn.

Bingo clubs had about 18,000 machines, 13,000 of them in Category C and a further 3000 in Category B3. Gross profit was £237m. And casinos had slightly under 2800 machines, nearly all Category B1, producing £137m gross profit.

The major suppliers – those that provided the greatest number of machines to operators during 2009-10 – were identified by the Gambling Commission as AMG Leisure, Crown Leisure, Danoptra’s Gamestec and RLMS, Dransfields Novelty Company, Inspired Group, Sceptre Leisure Solution and Wessex Coin.

Overall, the regulated gambling industry shrank by one percent in the year, with only the betting-shop and lottery sectors growing.

However, the total of around £2.1bn in gross gaming profit that the Gambling Commission report attributes to machines is certainly an understatement of the real total, because it does not regulate – and therefore doesn’t gather information on – pubs, clubs, working men’s clubs, or those FECs that lack adult areas. It also does not concern itself with SWP units such as quiz machines, not strictly speaking a form of gaming but often perceived in the same light by both venues and the public.

Indeed, another survey conducted for the Gambling Commission last year found that 3.1 percent of adults play fruit or slot machines – only slightly under the proportion that had bet on horse racing, although dwarfed by the 5.7 percent that had indulged in online gaming (excluding online National Lottery participation). Further light on the true extent of machine gaming is likely to be shed by the next major British Gambling Prevalence Survey, the first since 2007, which was carried out last year with results due in February.

The new Gambling Commission report on machine numbers and profitability covers the arcade, betting, bingo, casino and lotteries sectors from 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010, and is based on regulatory returns completed by operators.

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