Government set to reduce maximum FOBT stake to £2 claims newspaper report
The betting and racing industries could be facing their worst-case scenario over the future of controversial fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) after it was suggested the new culture secretary Matt Hancock was in favour of cutting stakes to a £2 maximum.
Hancock's promotion to become secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the new year reshuffle was widely welcomed because the MP whose West Suffolk constituency includes Newmarket is regarded as one of racing's biggest supporters in parliament.
Hancock's arrival at the DCMS coincided with the completion of a wide-ranging consultation on gambling that is due to close at noon on Tuesday, with its highest-profile issue being the maximum stake on FOBTs.
Consequences to racing
With the stake set to be cut from the current maximum of £100, the consultation set out four options, ranging from £2 to £50.
Bookmakers have claimed a cut to £2 would cause thousands of betting shops to close, while the government has been well-briefed on the consequences to racing of such a move, and its potential impact on employment, tax revenues, training, social responsibility and charity work.
Hancock is believed to be sympathetic to concerns around FOBTs, yet, according to The Sunday Times, he favours setting the new limit at the "bottom of the range" in line with the response from the 12-week consultation, open to all stakeholders and for which there was "overwhelming" support for a reduction to £2, the newspaper claimed.
An unnamed ally of the minister quoted in the report said: "The analysis that he is pro-gambling because he is pro-horseracing is completely wrong. Matt wants the new stake for FOBTs to be at the bottom of the range.
"His attitude to FOBTs is very negative because it takes money from reasonable, mature betting, like on the horses. He thinks these machines are a social blight."
FOBTs have been blamed for fuelling problem gambling and associated social ills and have been the target of campaigners, sections of the media, the church and politicians.
The Association of British Bookmakers claims the introduction of a £2 maximum stake would lead to 4,500 shop closures and the loss of 21,000 jobs by 2020, along with the loss of £1.1 billion in tax receipts for the Treasury and £290m in lost levy and media rights payments for racing.
Asked for a reaction to the report on Sunday, the ABB referred to its October statement, which said: "We believe the focus of any final decision should be to ensure measures are adopted that will be of genuine benefit to problem gamblers.
'There is a challenge'
"Betting shops cater for over six million customers every year and the vast majority of them gamble responsibly.
"We know that most problem gamblers use seven or more different types of gambling products. Therefore there is a challenge for the whole gambling industry to move from a position where there is a stable level of problem gambling in this country to one where problem gambling rates are decreasing.
"Betting shops are investing very significant sums of money to help identify those at risk so they get the help that they need. We are continually updating and working to improve responsible gambling measures."
A DCMS spokesperson said on Sunday: "No final decision has been taken. The consultation is still open."
The DCMS will consider the consultation responses, with an announcement unlikely for several weeks
William Hill spokesman Ciaran O'Brien said: "We know the department's official comment and we continue to work to Tuesday's deadline for submissions to the consultation."
If you were interested in this, you might like . . .
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com