Government pledges to cut FOBT stakes and launch consultation
The government finally announced its intention to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs on Tuesday, but stopped short of coming up with a definitive answer to what the level should be.
Instead it launched a 12-week consultation on a range of options between £50 and £2, much to the chagrin of opponents of the machines, such as Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, who called the results of the government's review "deeply disappointing".
Bookmakers said they would now consider the government's proposals, while the City appeared to regard the announcement as a positive, with William Hill shares rising 5.9p to 258.4p and Ladbrokes Coral shares up 2.2p to 127.5p.
Betting shops would close
The government's review of gambling, launched 12 months ago, was widely expected to recommend FOBT stakes be reduced to tackle problem gambling following intense pressure from campaigners and politicians from all parties.
Bookmakers have claimed that if stakes are cut to £2 then more than 4,000 betting shops would close and 21,000 people would lose their jobs, while horseracing would lose £290 million in levy and media rights and the Treasury more than £1 billion in revenue by 2020.
The options set out by the government include stakes of £50, £30, £2, and also a split of £20 for games such as roulette and £2 for 'slots'.
The Gambling Commission has also been asked to examine how better tracking and monitoring of play might help with interventions to protect players, and also if spin speed on games such as roulette should be looked at.
In addition to the consultation on FOBTs, the government also announced a package of measures around online gambling and gambling advertising.
Gambling minister Tracey Crouch said: “It's vital we strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm.
"Given the strong evidence and public concerns about the risks of high-stakes gaming machines on the high street, we're convinced of the need for action. That's why today we have set out a package of proposals to ensure all consumers and wider communities are protected.
"We've seen online gambling grow rapidly and we need to protect players in this space, while also making sure those experiencing harm relating to gambling receive the help they need."
'Of genuine benefit'
Reacting to the news, the Association of British Bookmakers said the entire gambling industry should look to reduce problem gambling rates.
A spokesman said: "Today's consultation sets out a number of proposals that we'll consider and respond to. We believe the focus of any final decision should be to ensure measures are adopted that will be of genuine benefit to problem gamblers."
William Hill's group communications director Ciaran O'Brien said they were pleased the government had recognised the industry's contribution to the wider economy and the progress made on social responsibility measures.
But he added: "We're concerned that severe stake cuts remain an option and will play a full part in the consultation process to ensure an evidence-based outcome."
However, the government has been accused of dragging its feet by prominent opponents of FOBTs.
The Labour Party has called for FOBT maximum stakes to be reduced to £2, and Watson said following the announcement: “This response from the government is deeply disappointing.
"Ministers have squandered a real opportunity to curb highly addictive fixed odds betting terminals, which can cause real harm to individuals, their families and local communities. After months of delays they’ve simply decided to have another consultation."
The Campaign For Fairer Gambling, which has led the opposition to FOBTs outside parliament, said it was "confident" the government would decide £2 was the appropriate stake.
However, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board's advice to the Gambling Commission, which in turn advises the government, was published on Tuesday in which it said of a £2 stake "we would find it difficult to regard so strong an action as being proportionate on the basis of the existing evidence".
While bookmakers have warned of the consequences of a major reduction in FOBT stakes, Crouch, speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, said the government did not "envisage these changes having a particularly negative impact on horseracing".
She added: "In fact, they may well encourage bookmakers and others to focus more on horseracing."
Reacting to the news, BHA executive director Will Lambe said: “British racing is naturally supportive of a vibrant and socially responsible retail and online betting industry in Britain, with British racing as a core product within its offering.
"We therefore welcome the government’s re-statement today of its review objective of ensuring the appropriate balance between a gambling sector that can grow and contribute to the economy, and one which is socially responsible and doing all it can to protect consumers and communities."
He added: "We also look forward to working alongside our colleagues in the bookmaking industry to help grow both betting and interest in the sport of horseracing in the years to come."
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