Government's review on gaming machines to be delayed
A delay in the government's announcement of its findings from the triennial review of gaming machines stakes and prizes appears inevitable following the decision to call a general election for June 8.
The government had said it would announce news of its review –which also includes gambling advertising and social responsibility measures – in the spring, but that looks set to be pushed back until October now, as the 'purdah' period will soon come into force and the government will not be able to make any announcements about any new or controversial initiatives.
That would mean any changes emanating from the review would not come into force until October 2018, rather than April next year.
The government could not confirm a date for the announcement on Thursday.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: "The government is currently undertaking a review of stakes and prizes of gambling machines and their locations, which includes FOBTs [Fixed Odds Betting Terminals].
"It is important that gambling regulations strike the right balance between allowing the industry to contribute to the economy and enable people to bet responsibly while ensuring consumers and communities are protected. The review will be published in due course."
There had been widespread speculation that the review would result in reduction of stakes on 'B2' machines – also known as FOBTs – with betting shop operators warning cuts from the current £100 to the £2 level demanded by campaigners would lead to widespread shop closures and job losses, as well as damage to horse and greyhound racing's economic models.
Analyst Gavin Kelleher of Goodbody said: "On one hand a delay is a short-term positive as any potential profit impact to operators is delayed by what looks like at least six months.
"It also provides operators with more time to mitigate as much of their machines away from high-staking B2 content, along with positioning as much of their machine player base towards registered play, as this could be a likely recommendation.
"However, the potential for a significant maximum stake reduction on B2 gaming machines remains an overhang on retail bookmakers in the UK."
Simon French of Cenkos also said an announcement was likely to be delayed, while also pointing out the issue of gaming machines could be included in party election manifestos.
He added: "Either way this is likely to continue to act as a brake on industry consolidation – unhelpful in a slowing UK market with tough Euro 2016 comparatives to be lapped in June and July."
Opponents of gaming machines have said they will try to keep the issue in the public eye.
John White, chief executive of amusement arcade trade body Bacta, said: "While the review may be delayed, the need for political action on the issue of FOBTs remains urgent."
He added: "We'll be campaigning for all parties to recognise the need for substantial stake reduction on FOBTs."