The push me-pull me life of a pulltab lottery innovator is not an easy one. For years, Alan Branch has been championing the charity based lottery game which has stuttered ever since the Gambling Commission issued its unchallenged ‘opinion’ on pub operators’ engagement. The evergreen Branch is asking the regulator to revisit its position.
The pulltab lottery sector is to renew its call on the Gambling Commission
to review its “opinion” on the operation of the innovative lottery games. The move, it argues, will enable small, local charities to benefit from funds raised by the game and deliver much needed impetus to community based pubs.
The call comes in the wake of a series of strong-arm tactics employed against operators of the games in recent weeks. According to sources,one operator of 40 years standing was advised that his licence could be risked ‘if he has anything to do with pulltabs’. Another operator with a pulltab machine sited, the source reported, was visited by the police who ‘told the pub that they were committing an offence if they didn’t get rid of the machine’.
The operational space is becoming a dangerous one,due in main to the stance of the Gambling Commission which has taken the view that pulltab lotteries, which had raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for local community charities, were akin to profit sharing.
This interpretation is drawn from the income split which gave 15 percent of funds to the publican. Despite charities picking up 20 percent, and half going to the lottery winners, the divide was not, in the GC’s opinion, acceptable, and it has applied its own interpretation.
The outcome has seen a decimation of the pulltab lottery sector, and an estimated million wiped off the funding of community charities.
Alan Branch, the man originally behind the innovative charity game, has been at the vanguard of the campaign to drive a change of heart into the GC. Now in his 80s,he remains as determined as ever to bring pulltab funding back into the charity sector.
“The Gambling Commission’s opinion has virtually removed the professional operator from this scheme,”he explained. “They have effectively made it financially unviable.”
Yet for Branch, it’s the GC stance that struggles to be viable.
“It’s one of those ‘computer says no’ decisions. The Commission has precluded most of the 100,000 small charities from benefitting from this type of fundraising as very few of these small charities could afford either the money or manpower to avail themselves. In the past, the way that the schemes worked with operators taking all the risk, many, many thousands of pounds were raised for the smaller charities.”
The issue at the very heart of the matter, argues Branch, is the Gambling Commission’s opinion is just that – opinion. The position has never been challenged in court and the Commission’s persuasive tactics, or “threats” as Branch used to describe it during the height of the sector’s battles with the regulator many years ago, have prevailed.
And recent instances seem to suggest that persuasion is fast becoming proscription.
That said, and latest cases notwithstanding, it would be reasonable to suggest that the waters had been somewhat calmer between the two parties, as Branch and the Gambling Commission sit entrenched very much on the opposite bank to one another.
“We now have a template to run this type of system,” Branch confirmed, “but no doubt they will add restrictions to this carrying on. The difficult thing, though, is in the past we have had to close down three charities.”
The move for a revision to the GC’s ‘opinion’ is a timely one as Branch surveys the National Lottery’s dominant standing and the degree of preference, he considers, the game gets.
“The lottery has always been a stick to beat the pulltabs with. And yet, the pub margins, if restored to 15 percent, could make a huge difference. It would enable thousands of small lotteries to benefit and also publicans and operators. These small charities have very little chance of NL grants whereas the pulltab system offers instant benefits.”
Branch remains dedicated to the pulltab lottery cause, which he firmly believes is governed by opinion, rather than legality. The problem remains; no-one in the sector is rich enough to challenge this opinion in court.
Such is the price of justice in the regulatory system. Money clearly talks, and on this occasion it appears no one is richer than the UK regulator.