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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Report claims FOBT verdict delayed by minister as tensions mount

Culture secretary Matt Hancock said there would be a decision on FOBTs shortly
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The government's verdict on FOBT stakes has been reportedly delayed following objections from one cabinet minister to the expected maximum figure of £2.

The pensions secretary Esther McVey has spoken out against plans to reduce the maximum stake on the controversial machines by 98 per cent, according to a report in The Times.

Further evidence of tensions over the issue surfaced yesterday when Labour MP Graham Jones alleged on Twitter that he had witnessed Conservative MP Philip Davies "verbally attacking" Tracey Crouch, the Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, in the House of Commons tea room.

Jones tweeted: "Just walked into tea room to witness the bookmakers buddy Philip Davies verbally attacking @tracey_crouch on FOBTs. Appalling behaviour from a man and an industry out of touch with the problems these machines cause."

Davies denied the claim, and said: "That's typical guff you would expect from Graham Jones and the anti-FOBT campaign that we now know have been misleading people. It's pretty desperate stuff.

"I was sat with her [Crouch] in the tea room for quite some time. That's what you do in the tea room, you talk about things with your colleagues. To say she was being abused is just absolute garbage."

Culture secretary Matt Hancock, who has ultimate responsibility for gambling policy, told parliament on Thursday morning that a decision would be announced shortly.

He was asked about the Times story during Department for Digital, Media, Culture & Sport questions, with shadow culture spokesman Kevin Brennan saying: "Who is in charge of gambling policy in this country, him or the right honourable member for Tatton [McVey]?"

"Me," Hancock replied.

Davies later asked Hancock whether he had seen another newspaper article this week by former anti-FOBT campaigner Adrian Parkinson who had written that there was no justification for a £2 stake.

Hancock replied: "I did see the article, not least because my honourable friend sent it to me via WhatsApp, and it is safe to say that I did not agree with all of it."

Carolyn Harris MP: staunch opponent of FOBTs

Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who has been a prominent opponent of FOBTs, then took up the subject, outlining punter losses on the machines and concluding: "I urge the secretary of state to put an end to this misery."

Hancock replied: "I pay tribute to the honourable lady for her work on this subject and the cross-party effort she has led. We have looked at all the evidence, and we will be coming out with our response shortly."

Hancock is said to favour a £2 stake, which bookmakers have claimed will lead to 4,000 betting shop closures and more than 20,000 job losses.

Racing figures have warned they expect the sport's finances to be hit by £50 million a year through lost media rights and levy payments.

Bookmaker shares plummeted recently when it was reported that chancellor Philip Hammond had dropped his objections, caused by concerns about lost tax revenue, to a £2 stake.

However, with the wait continuing for the government's decision, the political pressure continues to rise with more than 40 MPs and peers writing to The Times to say it was the government's "moral duty" to reduce the stake to £2.

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We have looked at all the evidence and we will be coming out with our response shortly
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