Arcade Games and Gambling

arcade money push machineNot many people really associate arcade games with gambling as much as they do with sports betting or casino games. However, they are actually regulated by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) in a similar way. This means that they certainly are a form of gambling, but what are they defined as by the Commission? And have these types of games actually managed to become as popular as those aforementioned casino-type games?

Plus, what are the most popular arcade games, and furthermore, are they rigged? Have they been set up so that the house always wins in the end? We’re going to be taking a closer look at these games and finding out exactly how they operate. And if they aren’t regulated in exactly the same way as casino games, how are they regulated?

Types of Amusement Arcade

brighton amusement arcadeIt seems as though when the regulations for arcade gaming were being drafted, lawmakers weren’t able to agree that they were all the same thing. For that reason, three different types of amusement arcade game were written up to be regulated. These remain in the same description today, being:

  • Adult Gaming Centres (AGCs)
  • Licensed Family Entertainment Centres (FECs)
  • Unlicensed Family Entertainment Centres (UFECs)

Premises offering different types of amusements require different types of licences and can only offer different sorts of arcade games within. The unlicensed FECs, for example, can only offer category D machines in their establishments, and this can only be done if they obtain the necessary gaming machine permit from their local licensing authority. The good part is that any number of category D machines can be made available by possessing such a permit.

Of course, when it comes to the AGCs, nobody under the age of 18 can enter these premises. Sometimes, these can be found within licensed FECs as well, and the same age restrictions apply to them. Even if you’re visiting an FEC with your children, they cannot enter the AGC area of establishment with you. Age restrictions do not apply when it comes to the unlicensed FECs noted earlier.

The types of games that each of these arcade establishments can provide are as follows, according to the UKGC:

Type of ArcadeCategories of Machines Permitted
AGC B3, B4, C and D
FEC C and D

Machine Categories for Arcade Establishments

 Maximum StakeMaximum Prize
D Money Prize 10p £5
D Non-Money Prize (Other Than Crane Grab Machine) 30p £8
D Non-Money Prize (Crane Grab Machine) £1 £50
D Combined Money and Non-Money Prize (Other Than Coin Pusher or Penny Falls Machines) 10p £8 (of which no more than £5 may be a money prize)
D Combined Money and Non-Money Prize (Coin Pusher or Penny Falls Machines) 20p £20 (of which no more than £10 may be a money prize)

The categories noted above for the different arcade establishments dictates what types of gaming machines they can have on their premises. All of them can feature category D games, and while these are permitted in casinos bingo halls, members’ clubs and betting shops, it’s uncommon to find them in such.

Instead, they usually show up in AGCs, FECs, pubs and travelling fairs. Five different combinations of stake and prize for the category D games are available to be introduced in such establishments. These are shown in the table above.

arcade game and prize ticketsTherefore, when you look at the descriptions of category D arcade games, it’s easy to understand what the UKGC is referring to. In fact, the crane grabbers, penny falls machines and coin pushers are some of the most prolific and popular games to play in arcade establishments.

That being said, numerous circumstances have arisen where coin pusher and grabber machines have been labelled as both rigged and addictive. While some people have suggested that there are certain ways to insert your coins into penny falls machines or certain ways of having a crane grab an item that ensure you win, this isn’t true at all. Many of these arcade games have been set up so that the vast majority of people don’t come away with anything except a hole in their pocket where money once was. In fact, research shows that the only difference between pub favourites such as fruit machines and those arcade games that appeal more to children is the external appearance. Everything inside operates in pretty much the same way.

The games mentioned above are not down to skill at all but are instead a percentage chance set by the operators themselves. A more recent crackdown on the gambling industry overall means that the arcade games spoken of are regulated by the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (BACTA) now. It is because of this organisation that players are made aware of what category of game they’re playing, so a small square on the front of them with the wording “Cat D” should be seen.

Category C

arcade slot gamesAn FEC is able to incorporate category C games into its establishment alongside the category D amusements. There aren’t different types of games within this category, but instead, different establishments hosting them can have different amounts of them available for visitors to play. The maximum stake that can be placed on these games is £1 and the maximum win for anyone has to be set at £100.

Category C type games are permitted in casinos set up under both the 1968 and 2005 Gambling Acts, in betting shops, tracks with pool betting, bingo premises, AGCs, members’ clubs, miners’ welfare clubs or commercial clubs, licensed FECs and pubs. What are the maximum machines from this category that each location can incorporate into their premises?

PremisesMaximum Machines
Pubs 2 (or specified amount with a permit granted by local authority)
Members’, Miners’ and Commercial Clubs 3
Bingo Premises, AGCs and FECs Unlimited
Betting Shops and Tracks with Pool Betting 4 made up of any combination of games from categories B through to D
2005 Act Large and Small Casinos 150 for large casinos and 80 for small made up of any combination of games from categories B through to D
1968 Act Casinos 20 made up of any combination of games from categories B through to D or any number of C or D machines instead

Pubs and other establishments with alcohol licences are automatically entitled to have two category C or D gaming machines upon notification to the local licensing authority.

Category B3 & B4

fixed odds betting terminals in a shop

For the AGCs, they can include the C and D category games, but also the B3 and B4 options. What exactly are these as a difference to the others? Well, the B3 games can allow maximum stakes of £2 and a maximum prize of £500 to be paid out. B4 category games also have a maximum stake of £2 attributed to them but can only pay out a maximum of £400.

Of course, in relation to arcades, only AGCs are able to incorporate these. However, you can also find them in operation within betting shops, casinos, tracks with pool betting, bingo premises and the various clubs.

An AGC that holds a licence granted prior to July 13, 2011 is entitled to make four category B3 and B4 machines available on their premises. Speaking of the licence, what exactly is this in reference to AGCs and the others? Well, let’s take a look.

AGC, FEC and UFEC Licences

licencingBecause these games, while considered to be on a lower tier than those often found within casinos, are described as gambling options, establishments incorporating them also require specific licences. A licence for an AGC is different to one required for an FEC for example, and obviously, an unlicensed one doesn’t possess anything of such nature. UFEC premises simply need to acquire a permit to offer their category D games from their local licensing authority instead.

As noted earlier on, an AGC offering arcade games can only be accessed by people of 18 years or above. The fee that needs to be paid for an AGC licence depends upon the annual gross gambling yield (GGY) that you are expected to bring in. Anything from below £200,000 and up to £7.5 million in GGY will allow you to get a licence for £879 each year. After this, the increments go up to £1,464, £4,394 and onwards.

The highest application fee is £14,647 for those premises doing GGY of between £30 million and beyond. Any sort of combination licence will also allow operators to pay a discounted licence fee. Those prices are exactly the same for UK FECs as well, although these premises aren’t really expected to bring in more than £125 million in GGY.

Biggest Instances of Reported Arcade Game Fixing

arcade claw grabber game lady playingIt may come as no surprise, but it’s not uncommon for people to really believe that arcade games are heavily rigged. One of the most common arcade games that this has been reported about is the grabbing crane machines. We’ve all had those instances of the claw grabbing on to an item in the machine, hoisting it up and then unceremoniously dropping it back down before it reaches the hole for us to win it.

In July of 2019, a woman reported visiting a holiday park and using her money to access a grabber machine. She proceeded to spend a total of £100 on the game, trying to win soft toys from within by guiding the claw to grab one and deposit it. However, by the time she’d spent that much, she claimed that the machines had all been rigged to stop people from winning on them. It was at the Parkdean Resort where Cheryl Holden, 34 did her best to capture a soft toy for her five-month-old son, Ashton. She proceeded with putting £40 into the machine that offered four attempts at winning for £1, which was based within an amusement arcade at Parkdean.

Cheryl said that after the £40 had gone, she complained to a staff member that she had spent so much and hadn’t won anything. Upon doing so, the staff member supposedly opened the machine up, changed a setting and Cheryl then proceeded to win on the following round. According to Cheryl though, the machine was then opened once more and reset. She proceeded to spend another £60 on it without a win again, and this was when she opted to make a complaint about it again. This time, she called the manager of Parkdean, who proceeded to laugh off the complaining mum and suggested that making a complaint wouldn’t get her anywhere.

Another instance of an arcade game being discovered as a complete scam came in 2018, when a YouTuber built his own device to effectively cheat at playing the Cyclone game. If you haven’t ever played such, it basically tests your reaction time. You (and three other players, if desired), need to press your button when a light travelling around the table hits your specific spot. That’s quite tough for a human when it gets exceptionally fast, but Mark Rober opted to construct a machine that was able to precisely trigger the button press to within a millisecond. It could pretty much win every single time if this was the case.

However, Rober attached it to a Cyclone game and sure enough, the game ended up cheating him out of winning. Cyclone would miss by a very tiny margin, sometimes being too quick on the draw and other times too slow, and this came despite there being no change in when the machine was pressing the button. Following several rounds of gameplay, Rober concluded that the game had been set up to arbitrarily decide wins and losses, rather than actually provide wins when players were properly playing.

Companies Try to Bring People Back

arcade grabber with cuddly toysA decline in the popularity of arcade games, not solely due to obvious rigging in some instances, was experienced by arcades around the world several years ago. This led to a major industry trade group taking action to try and win players’ trust back following a huge lawsuit against a high-profile games manufacturer.

The US-based group set about forcing its members such as Sega and Bandai Namco, to sign a “fair play pledge”, which would proceed with promising that all games met with a standard level of performance to give players a fair chance of winning. A spokesman for the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) said that they wanted to put emphasis on the fact that they aren’t “in the business of rigging games”.

The signing of the pledge would relate to the construction of redemption machines, such as ticket-and-claw, penny fall and ball throwing games. Back in 2016, a huge report was made on how operators of the arcade claw machines can adjust the strength of the claw itself so as to affect the outcome of gameplay. Only three years prior to that, a court case had alleged that the Sega Keymaster game was also rigged, being labelled as “false, deceptive and likely to mislead consumers”. Sega agreed to a settlement of $650,000 in that particular case, but it was thrown out by a judge in the end, stating it would be too difficult to reimburse anyone who had played that particular game.

The Vice President of AAMA, Pete Gustafson stated that all games released in future would be very much winnable by players who have a skillset capable of doing so. This, he said, would not make the games easier, but there will be no rigging involved in their manufacture and operation.