“Play. Advance. One two three. Prize!”. The sound of the slot machines has become an inseparable part of the soundtrack of the country’s bars, restaurants and cafes. It is possible, however, that it becomes increasingly difficult to hear it. The reason is that some autonomous communities, concerned about the flirtation of minors with the world of betting, want to put a stop to access to games of chance in the hospitality industry. The Balearic Islands, for example, have set themselves a goal for 2025 to silence the songs of the 5,000 type B recreational machines, known as slot machines, that exist on their islands. In sleeping mode, these machines will not be able to emit sounds, light flashes, colors, or any stimulus that attracts potential players. Instead, they will display a message about the dangers of compulsive gambling.
The 140,792 type B machines that are active in Spain achieved a collection of 2,252 million euros, according to the latest data from the sector. However, control of this notable business in our country is diffuse. And it moves at different speeds. A tangle of regional laws and regulations regulate disparate issues regarding the operation of these games, such as the frequency with which prizes must be awarded, the controls to ensure that the system is not rigged, access control for minors or the limits of their advertising. .
To answer, each region has its own instruction manual. Since 2020, the Valencian Community is the only region where the managers of the premises are forced to have remote controls to activate the slot machines. For its part, Aragón has just prohibited the supply of cash to players through credit cards; and Galicia has limited the number of these machines in bars to two.
In this regulatory puzzle, a golden rule stands out: these machines must give a certain number of prizes, with a frequency defined by law. Specifically, the common thing is that the gaming companies are obliged to return to the players at least 70% of the investment. This is stipulated, for example, in the regulations of Andalusia, Extremadura, the Balearic Islands or the Community of Madrid, among others. According to the regulations of the latter, “each recreational machine will be programmed and will be operated in cycles of 40,000 consecutive games, in such a way that it returns in each of the cycles a percentage of prizes that will not be less than 70% of the value of the games played.” ”, explains Fernando Martín Martín, partner at Loyra Abogados, a law firm specializing in gambling.
Now, how to control that these arcade games give the prizes they promise? The answer lies within the devices themselves. These have a sealed mechanism that can only be accessed by inspectors, with the aim of controlling the history of each play, prize and game sequence. Thus, in case of fraud, the inspection has a fingerprint of the deception in this particular black box.
But the legal control of this type of games begins earlier. When an operator designs a type B gaming model, it must pass an exhaustive technical examination, a kind of ITV for games of chance that want to access the market. As Martín Martín explains, a laboratory intervenes in the process, in charge of certifying that the machine complies with all the legal aspects: “Among other aspects, the maximum price of the items, the blocking mechanisms, the maximum amount that can be entered are verified in the machine, the duration of the games or the prizes”. All these issues are measured to the millimeter.
But the amalgamation of regional laws that regulate these conditions makes this bureaucracy difficult. Santiago Asensi, lawyer and director of Asensi Abogados, a legal firm that is also specialized in the business of chance, explains that each region has its own requirements, which is problematic, because it prevents manufacturers from marketing a single gaming model for all the country. Consequently, manufacturers must “adapt their products to each community, in order to be able to approve them and register them in the corresponding registry of recreational and gambling machines.”
In 2013, the Rajoy government issued a market unity guarantee law in which the gaming sector pinned its hopes to achieve harmonized approval. But, over time, the idea of simplifying the process fell out of favor. “The reality,” adds Asensi, “is that it was shown that said law did not turn out to be effective, since, although the validation procedure has been implemented in some autonomous communities, it requires practically the same effort as starting a new one from scratch.” new approval”.
Complying with the chain of technical requirements is not a bed of roses, but failure to do so can result in a heavy penalty. And, again, it is the regional laws that draw the map of fines. Although the lawyers consulted agree on this point, the regional regulations do agree and share similar sanctioning frameworks. In general, the fines can reach up to 600,000 euros for non-compliant companies. In addition, depending on the severity of the fraud, the owners face “the suspension of the authorization, the closure of the premises or the disqualification from gambling activities” for a period of up to five years, explains Santiago Asensi. In the most serious cases, indicates the expert, tampering with the machines can lead to the definitive closure of a place.
Women and ‘marketing’
The use of sexualized women has been a recurring technique to attract players to slots. The recent Panoramic report on women and gambling, from the Basque Gambling Observatory, revealed, after analyzing more than 339 models of machines in the region, that more than 60% of the devices analyzed projected a distorted and hypersexualized image of women. In addition to being a dubious ethical tactic, it is a prohibited advertising technique. The regulations of the Basque Country, without going any further, veto the approval of slot machines that promote “pornographic or sexist” content. With more or less specificity, other regulations include similar stipulations. Andalusia, for example, is one of the most explicit when it comes to prohibiting messages that undermine “the dignity of women”.
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