Bookies brace themselves as FOBT verdict could be days away
Betting shop operators go into this weekend with great trepidation as the government's long-delayed verdict on FOBT stakes could finally be announced next week, possibly as early as Monday.
The government's gambling review was launched in October 2016 with its findings supposed to be revealed last spring, but they were delayed by the general election.
Then last autumn the government set out a number of options to reduce the maximum stakes on the controversial machines, which opponents claim cause problem gambling and other social ills, from £100 to £50, £30, £20 or £2.
Campaigners have long demanded the stakes be cut right back to £2, which bookmakers claim would lead to the closure of 4,000 betting shops and the loss of more than 20,000 jobs.
Racing figures have said they are working on the basis of the sport losing £50 million a year in income from media rights and lost levy if large numbers of shops are lost.
Association of British Bookmakers chairman Paul Darling said: "We are very concerned about the potential outcome as reports suggest a £2 stake. We are very worried about the effect of that and how it would decimate the industry."
There had been speculation the announcement was going to be made to parliament on Thursday, but reports suggested that an intervention by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey against a £2 stake had caused a further delay.
Bookmakers have been making last-ditch attempts to sway the government, launching an advertising campaign emphasising the potential loss of jobs and calling on people to write to their local MP asking for them to urge the government to reject a £2 stake.
Industry figures have said they will accept a "proportionate" stake cut and support a package of additional measures.
William Hill chairman Roger Devlin told their annual meeting this week: "This would include a statutory levy to fund education, research and treatment of problem gambling, a ban on gambling advertising around football before the 9pm watershed and earlier closure of shops in the evenings."
He added: "William Hill doesn’t want anybody to be harmed by gambling. As one of the largest and most trusted bookmakers in the UK we are committed to invest in responsible gambling tools such as software that can track play and that makes it mandatory for customers to set time and loss limits at the beginning of every machine session.
"We are also looking at improving self-exclusion through debit card blocking."
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