Demand test axed in licensing guidelines.
LOCAL authorities, which will take over licensing of gambling premises from magistrates courts in 2007, will have to produce a threeyear policy statement based on guidelines produced by the new central authority for betting and gaming, the Gambling Commission, writes Howard Wright. Draft guidelines for licensing authorities were published yesterday, ahead of a three-month public consultation period, and the commission has made it clear that local authorities must stand by the final document in meeting their new responsibility for issuing licences for gambling premises.
The Gambling Commission, which came into being on October 1, is seeking "consistency across licensing authorities about the manner in which functions under the Gambling Act are carried out".
As a consequence, it says, "there should be strong and defensible reasons" for local authorities' departing from the guidance.
Commission chairman Peter Dean said: "We want to encourage consistency, while at the same time leaving licensing authorities discretion to decide what is appropriate in their area."
The guidelines confirm that whatever policy is decided by licensing bodies - local authorities in England and Wales, licensing boards in Scotland - it does not include the old 'demand test', under which magistrates could turn down an application for a betting shop licence on the grounds that demand had already been met by existing outlets.
The document points out: "This is a key difference between the 2005 act and previous legislation on gaming and betting. Unmet demand is not a criterion for a licensing authority in considering an application for a premises licence under the Gambling Act.
"Each application must be considered on its merits without regard to demand."
Under the guidelines, licensing authorities will examine applications with regard to the main objectives of the act - keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring it is conducted fairly and openly, and protecting vulnerable people.
The guidelines can be downloaded from www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk. The closing date for consultation is March 17.