What is a Category D gaming machine?
A gaming machine is defined by the Gambling Act 2005 as ‘a machine that is designed or adapted for use by individuals to gamble - whether or not it can also be used for other purposes.’ Slot machines and fixed odds betting terminals are examples of these machines.
The Gambling Commission, the UK’s regulatory body for gambling, divides these machines into four general categories based on the cost of using them and the maximum prize money that they can pay out. These categories go from A down to D, although Category A machines are not currently legal in the UK and Category B is divided into five sub-categories.
At the bottom of the list, Category D machines are defined on the Gambling Commission website as ‘low-stake fruit machine style machines, coin pushers (sometimes called penny falls) or crane grabs’: so the kind of thing you might find in an amusement arcade, on a pier or in a pub, as well as in an actual casino. Most Category D machines tend to be fruit machine style ones.
What are the different types of Category D gaming machines?
Fruit/slot machines in general are not limited to Category D: in fact, Category B slot machines exist. Those classified in Category D have to offer specific stakes that don’t exceed a certain amount. The maximum stake on a slot machine is 10p and there is a maximum cash prize of £5.
Slot machines most resemble something you might find in a casino: you bet your money, spin the reels and wait to see if you’ve got a winning combination. Machines of this type classified as Category D have to offer low stakes and payouts.
A staple of seaside amusement arcades, this kind of machine has been popularised in recent years by the TV game show Tipping Point. The object of these games is to judge the time you drop a coin into the machine as carefully as possible in order to win back either more money or a selection of small prizes.
Coin pushers are grouped under Category D because of the very low amount you can spend on them in one go as well as the relatively low value of any payouts. Their highly interactive nature and very low stakes (with a maximum of 20p) mean you wouldn’t necessarily think of them as representing gambling, but the Gambling Commission still classifies them as Category D gaming machines.
Though the maximum stake on these machines is 20p, there aren't 20p coin pusher machines. However it is not uncommon for coin machines to have two slots that you can use simultaneously.
Another familiar feature of amusement arcades, crane grab-type machines have no doubt been responsible for many hours of frustration for parents and children alike! In theory, success at one of these games comes from skilfully timing the speed and the direction of the claw to hook on to your desired prize (invariably a soft toy).
The reality isn’t as simple, however. The operator of the game can programme the claw so that it only grabs onto a prize a certain number of times — so success depends completely on when you decide to play. So what appears to be a game requiring a high degree of skill is in fact entirely governed by chance.
What’s at stake?
There is no minimum return to player (RTP) for Category D machines, but this must be displayed on the machine unless it is a penny fall or crane grab machine.
The Gambling Commission sets the minimum stake and maximum prize amounts for Category D machines and defines how many of the machines each type of venue is permitted to have on its premises.
The maximum stakes for fruit machine-style games stand at 10p or 30p depending on whether or not prizes are given in cash, and the maximum prizes are either £5 or £8.
For coin pusher-style machines, the maximum stakes are set at 20p. The largest cash prize that can be placed inside the machine is £10, and the total prizes on offer must add up to no more than £20.
The maximum stake for crane grab-type machines is £1 and the maximum non-cash prize must have a maximum value of £50.
Compared to normal fixed-odds betting terminals (Category B2 machines) which have a £2 maximum stake and £500 maximum prize, these figures are obviously far lower.
To what extent do Category D machines expose young people to gambling?
Although Category A, B and C machines are illegal for under-18s to use, there is currently no government legislation regarding age limits for Category D machines.
Given that Category D machines can be found in venues often visited by families, the availability of the machines has been the cause of debates about children’s exposure to gambling.
Of course, given their low stakes, there’s no danger of youngsters being able to gamble away thousands of pounds in the space of five minutes. However, this isn’t necessarily to say that children’s access to Category D machines aren’t promoting gambling habits among children. Like the loot box controversy, this debate hinges on whether or not children’s use of the machines constitutes gambling.
As well as this, Category D encompasses a diverse range of gaming machines, not just fruit machines. It’s arguably harder to chase your losses on a crane grab game than a slot machine since it offers an actual tangible prize, which may be more valuable to a child trying to win it it than simply more money to put back into the machine.
Last November, members of amusement machine association the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (bacta) decided to take action by voting to ban under-18s from Category D fruit machines in seaside arcades and family entertainment centres, with the new rules coming into force this March.
Still, even with those machines visible and availble to play amongst the other arcade machines, are the UK Gambling Commission using this technicality to expose children to gambling?