Independent bookmaker's relief over government FOBT consultation
One of the UK's leading independent bookmakers has said they felt some relief after the government's long-awaited announcement of its gambling review this week.
Gambling minister Tracey Crouch said the maximum stake on FOBTs would be reduced from £100 but set out a range of options from £50 to £2 that would be followed by a 12-week consultation period.
The government has said the final decision on stakes would be evidence-based and that has helped ease bookmaker Howard Chisholm's anxiety to some degree.
Bookmakers have claimed that a cut to £2 would lead to thousands of betting shops closing.
Chisholm said: "I was somewhat relieved by the publication of the consultation document. Gaming machine regulation is multifaceted and not a one-dimensional issue confined to maximum stake.
"Therefore it was good to read that the government is looking to the evidence regarding all the different characteristics of machine play. This should see off any chance of an irrational reduction of stakes, albeit that some form of reduction in maximum stake is guaranteed."
Chisholm said independents were concerned about the long-term viability of their businesses rather than "short-term profit to assuage the City".
He added: "Thus our interests align with the customer – we want them to enjoy their gambling and be long-term customers, we absolutely do not want them to have problems with their gambling.
"The ideal outcome of the Triennial Review is to provide a framework in which customers can continue to enjoy their gambling, bookmakers are able to generate sustainable income and problem gambling is reduced – a task I am sure the minister is looking forward to!"
Conservative MP Laurence Robertson said he was concerned about the potential effect on racing through lost levy and media rights should betting shops close owing to reduced FOBT stakes.
He said: "I was concerned to hear Tracey Crouch suggest money currently staked on FOBTs might in future be redirected towards racing bets. There is no evidence to suggest this will be the case.
"Rather, it is likely to be the case that betting shops will close if there is a significant reduction in stakes and racing will subsequently lose out because of it. This is the point that not only bookmakers but also representatives of racing should be making."
The City continues to digest the consequences of the government's announcement.
Morgan Stanley analyst Ed Young said in a note issued on Wednesday that it regarded a £20 maximum stake as "most likely", adding: "We continue to think the ranged structure of the proposal is constructive for the betting companies, as it increases the chances of a compromise middle-ground figure being reached."
However, he is not expecting clarity in the short-term, despite the consultation ending on January 23.
"Given the pace of the review so far, we anticipate firm government proposals could take six or more months from now," Young said.
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