Proposed changes in the law to restrict the access of children to gaming machines that pay out prizes of more than £5 could make life extremely difficult for pub and bar operators, the Association of Licensed Multiple retailers has warned.

The government's response last week to the report of the Gambling Review Body, headed by Sir Alan Budd, proposes splitting gaming machines into four different categories, only two of which will be allowed into bars and bars.

But the category that effectively covers today's machines, with a stake of 50p and a top prize of £25, would only be permitted in areas of pubs and bars barred to children under 18 û a ruling that goes against moves in the licensing reform White Paper to liberalise the access of children to licensed premises, the ALMR points out.

The only machines allowed anywhere in pubs and bars would be "category D" amusements-with-prizes machines with a maximum stake of 10p and a maximum prize of £5. Under the government's proposed regulations, pubs and bars would be allowed a maximum of two "category C" machines with a top prize of £25, but these would have to be in a "designated area" where children under 18 would not be allowed even with an accompanying adult. There would be a right to apply to the local authority for more £25 prize machines, but the government has given no idea of what a "designated area" would look like, or who would enforce it.

The ALMR said in its response to the proposals that they appeared to try to apply solutions to problems that did not exist in pubs and bars, and it would be challenging them. "Category C" machines were essentially the same as those already in operation in pubs and bars throughout the country, yet the government was now trying to bring in new restrictions on their deployment. At the same time, "the licensing reform White Paper seeks to liberalise the access for children to licensed premises but the new gambling proposals will severely curtail if not eliminate this yet-to-be-delivered freedom"

The association said the role of local authorities was also a worry for pub and bar operators, and "the requirement for national and enforceable guidelines will be regarded as very important."