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Bingo - under the Gambling Act 2005

There are a number of different games that are known under the general title of 'Bingo'. Here is a brief guide to the games of 'bingo' that can be played under the Gambling Act 2005. If you are in any doubt about the legality of any gambling activities that you intend to promote or for which you intend to provide facilities, you are strongly advised to seek independent legal advice.

See also: 

Cash Bingo

Cash bingo is primarily a commercial activity, and is licensed and regulated by the Gambling Commission. Operators wishing to offer cash bingo on a commercial basis you should consult the Gambling Commission: 

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Prize Bingo

Prize bingo is the kind normally played in funfairs and amusement arcades, for small participation fees and modest prizes. It is typical of the prize gaming defined in section 288 of the Act, in which neither the nature nor the size of the prize are determined by the number of people playing or the amount paid for or raised by the gaming. Instead, the prize is put up in advance by the organiser of the game.

Under their existing permissions, bingo halls, adult gaming centres, travelling fairs, licensed family entertainment centres and holders of family entertainment centre gaming machine permits are automatically entitled to offer prize bingo. It may also be provided, for example in holiday camps and theme parks, under a prize gaming permit issued by the licensing authority.

The maximum participation fee that may be charged for any one chance to win a prize in a game of prize bingo, wherever it is played, is 50 pence. The aggregate amount of participation fees, and the amount or value of prizes for which a game may be played, may not exceed £500.

Where prize bingo is played for money prizes, the following limits apply to the amount of a prize:

  • Adult Gaming Centres: £50 
  • Licensed bingo premises (where under 18s are excluded): £50
  • Licensed bingo premises (where under 18s are permitted): £35
  • All other cases: £35

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Club Bingo

Clubs that wish to provide facilities for bingo may do so under the 'exempt gaming' provisions in Part 12 of the Act (section 269). Clubs need to meet a number of statutory criteria before they can offer gaming.
The following rules apply to bingo played in clubs and institutes:

  • no amounts may be deducted from sums staked or won; 
  • the maximum participation fee is £1 per person, per day (or £3 where a club gaming permit is held); 
  • there should be no linking of games between premises; and 
  • in the case of members’ clubs and institutes, people may only participate in the gaming if they have been a member (or applied or were nominated for membership) at least 48 hours before playing, or are genuine guests of such a person. 

There are no limits on stakes and prizes for individual games of club bingo. However, clubs or institutes that wish to offer high turnover bingo (i.e. where stakes or prizes exceed £2000 per week) will require a bingo operating licence from the Gambling Commission.

For further information see:

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Pub bingo

Pubs that wish to provide facilities for bingo may do so under section 279 of the Act. The following rules apply:

  • the maximum amount that may be staked by a player in a game of bingo is £5
  • no amounts may be deducted from sums staked or won;
  • players may not be charged a fee for taking part;
  • there should be no linking of games between premises; and,
  • nobody under 18 may participate.

As with clubs, pubs that wish to offer high turnover bingo (i.e. where stakes or prizes exceed £2000 per week) will require a bingo operating licence from the Gambling Commission.

For further information see:

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Bingo for 'good causes'

Organisations that wish to provide bingo (or other types of gaming) for charitable or other non-commercial purposes (e.g. to raise funds for a society) may do so under Part 14 of the Act. Non-commercial gaming may only take place at events where none of the proceeds from the event itself are used for private gain. There are two types of non-commercial gaming:

  • Prize gaming: where the prizes are put up in advance, and are not dependent on the number of players taking part or the amount of money staked. There are no statutory limits on stakes, prizes, participation fees or other charges for this type of gaming.
  • Equal chance gaming: where the amount or value of the prizes varies according to the number of players who participate and/or the amount of money they stake. Here a single payment of £8 per day may be charged to cover admission, stakes and any other charges for playing. The total value of prizes must not exceed £600 in one day. Where an event is the final one of series in which all of the players have previously taken part, a higher prize fund of no more than £900 is permitted.

In all cases, the players participating in non-commercial bingo must be told what 'good cause' is to benefit from the profits from the gaming.

Frequently Asked Questions:

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Q1. Can social clubs hold bingo games for their members?

Under the new Act clubs can offer bingo and other equal chance gaming without a permit or a licence provided that:

  • the club complies with limits to be set in regulations for the amounts which may be deducted from sums staked or won (unless a club gaming permit is held); 
  • the participation fee is no more than the regulations allow (expected to be £1 per person per day, or £3 where a club gaming permit is held); 
  • games are held on the premises
  • games are not linked with games held on other premises
  • games are only open to club members and guests (unless your club is a commercial club)
  • and/or the total stakes or prizes for bingo games played in any seven day period does not exceed £2,000 more than once in 12 months.

You will need to apply for a bingo operating licence if you operate bingo on your club premises with total stakes or prizes that go above £2,000 a week and you plan to do so again at any time during the following twelve months. After the first week of high turnover bingo the club will commit an offence if high turnover bingo is played again in the following twelve months, unless a bingo operating licence has been obtained.

If your total stakes or prizes for bingo reach £2,000 in any seven day period without an operating licence you must notify the Gambling Commission.

Provided conditions outlined in the new Act are complied with you do not need a premises licence.

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Q2. Can I run a bingo without obtaining a licence?

From 1 September 2007, under the Gambling Act 2005, bingo can be played in pubs and clubs provided that total stakes or prizes do not exceed £2,000 in any 7 day period (e.g. 7 lots of £285). Clubs can also register for a club gaming permit to offer bingo.

However, a club would need to apply for a bingo operating licence and satisfy the application criteria if the stakes or prizes exceeded £2,000 in any 7 day period and they intend or expect to exceed this amount again.
An organiser could provide bingo at a non-commercial event, such as a fundraising event. Section 297 of the Gambling Act defines non-commercial gaming and section 300 sets out the conditions for non-commercial equal chance gaming which must be complied with.

An event is non-commercial if the arrangements for the event are such that no part of the proceeds are to be appropriated for private gain. The whole proceeds of the event, after deducting reasonable expenses, must be devoted to purposes other than private gain. The people participating in the bingo must be informed that the purpose of the gaming is for a specified purpose.

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Q3. I am a publican / run a pub and would like to play bingo on the premises for the benefit of my customers

You do not need an operating licence if you provide bingo at premises with an on-premises alcohol licence containing a bar at which alcohol can be served without food. The games must be for adults only, must not be linked with games played on other premises, are subject to restrictions on stakes and prizes (see advice on gaming in clubs and alcohol licensed premises), a prohibition on levies on stakes or prizes and on participation fees and the bingo must not be 'high turnover' *. Section 279-281.

(* For prize gaming in pubs and clubs, Section 281 of the Act sets out the limits for high turnover bingo)

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Q4. Can a bingo or betting premises offer gaming machines only?

The Commission has recently published its view that bingo must be offered (albeit not necessarily at all times) in each separate bingo premises, and betting facilities must be available in each separate betting premises, and that operators of such premises may not simply make gaming machines available. This was communicated to trade associations in an open letter.

We have also recently published a second letter which confirms our view that there needs to be an acceptable balance between the provision of the primary gambling activity and the provision of gaming machines.

Local authorities will need to satisfy themselves that the primary gambling activity is made available in any bingo and betting premises for which they issue a premises licence. This may also be a relevant consideration where an existing premises licence holder applies to vary their licence to exclude an area of the premises from its ambit and then applies for a new premises licence, or multiple licences, for that or those excluded areas. 

The Commission recommends that local authorities contact their local compliance manager at the Commission and that they may also want to contact the applicant to discuss how they intend to ensure the primary gambling activity will be made available.

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Q5: I am running a function with entertainments to raise money for a charitable cause – can bingo be played at such an event?

Organisations that wish to provide bingo (or other types of gaming) for charitable or other non-commercial purposes (e.g. to raise funds for a society) may do so under Part 14 of the Act. Non-commercial gaming may only take place at events where none of the proceeds from the event itself are used for private gain. There are two types of non-commercial gaming.

Prize gaming: where the prizes are put up in advance, and are not dependent on the number of players taking part or the amount of money staked. There are no statutory limits on stakes, prizes, participation fees or other charges for this type of gaming.

Equal chance gaming: where the amount or value of the prizes varies according to the number of players who participate and/or the amount of money they stake. Here a single payment of £8 per day may be charged to cover admission, stakes and any other charges for playing. The total value of prizes must not exceed £600 in one day. Where an event is the final one of series in which all of the players have previously taken part, a higher prize fund of no more than £900 is permitted.

In all cases, the players participating in non-commercial bingo must be told what 'good cause' is to benefit from the profits from the gaming.

See also: 

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