Minister faces tough questioning in House of Commons over FOBT stakes
Culture secretary Matt Hancock said the government had to ensure it came "to the right answer" as the issue of fixed odds betting terminal stakes was raised in the House of Commons on Thursday.
Hancock, appearing at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions for the first time since taking over as head of the department, was put under pressure by MPs to decide that stakes should be reduced to £2 following the government's gambling review.
Bookmakers have claimed that will lead to thousands of betting shops closing, resulting in job losses, a fall in tax receipts for the Treasury and a major loss in income for the British horseracing industry through media rights and the levy.
A number of racing figures have voiced concerns about the effect a £2 stake could have on the sport.
Hancock, who reportedly favours a £2 stake himself, responded to a question from Labour MP Stephen Timms on the impact of a reduction in FOBT stakes by saying he had had discussions "on the issue of gambling" with chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond.
Timms, the member for East Ham in London and an outspoken opponent of FOBTs, described the machines as "vile" and betting shops as "tawdry and soulless high street outlets", adding: "Will the secretary of state now call time on this racket, with its £1.5 billion a year welfare burden, and cut the maximum stake to £2?"
Hancock replied: "I know that the issue of fixed odds betting terminals raises strong emotions in the House and around the country, and it is very important we approach it properly.
"Especially coming from the right honourable gentleman, who is widely respected across the House and was a member of the government when the expansion of FOBTs happened, that is a telling statement."
Shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan said the government must intervene and asked Hancock: "Will the secretary of state answer my simple question and commit today to reducing the maximum FOBT stake to £2 a spin?"
He replied: "What I will do is commit to reducing the maximum FOBT stake, and to responding to the consultation in due course and in the proper way. We must ensure we come to the right answer on this question."
Hancock was also asked about the issue of lone working in betting shops by Labour MP Holly Lynch. He said there was "full consideration of these issues" in the review.
In response to the calls for a £2 stake, the Association of British Bookmakers pointed to evidence given to ministers by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board in January 2017.
In that document the RGSB, which advises the Gambling Commission – and through them the government – on responsible gambling strategy, said it was "far from certain" a reduction in stakes would result in a reduction in harm.
“It's not for us to consider the economic damage a reduction to £2 might do to the bookmaking and related industries," the RGSB added. "But we would find it difficult to regard so strong an action as being proportionate on the basis of the existing evidence."
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