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Sports minister Tracey Crouch resigns in government row over FOBT cut

Sports minister Tracey Crouch resigned on Thursday
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Sports minister Tracey Crouch has resigned from the government over what she described as the "unjustifiable" delay in implementing the cut in FOBT stakes.

Crouch, who is regarded as having been instrumental in bringing about the government's reforms of the levy, quit as a result of chancellor Philip Hammond's announcement in Monday's Budget that the cut in FOBT stakes to £2 from £100 would take place next October, rather than in April as campaigners had called for.

FOBT stake cut set for next October as Hammond increases remote gaming duty

In her letter of resignation to prime minister Theresa May, Crouch, a long-standing opponent of FOBTs, said that the money lost on the machines and people taking their lives as a result of problem gambling meant the delay could not be justified.

"The alignment of the stake reduction with an increase in remote gaming duty was a condition put on by the Treasury to provide fiscal neutrality but is not a technical necessity," she added, "so there is no reason why implementation cannot come sooner than October."

She concluded: "I hope you understand my position and accept my resignation with the sadness it is tended."

Crouch was not present in the Commons for the scheduled questions to ministers from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Thursday morning, nor for the urgent question on the subject of FOBTs granted to Labour deputy leader and shadow culture spokesman Tom Watson.

Tom Watson accused government of capitulating to the gambling industry
Culture secretary Jeremy Wright had to defend the government's position in the face of questioning from MPs on both sides of the house, after which there was speculation the government would commit a U-turn to head off Crouch's resignation and a potential backbench rebellion.

However, at the end of the debate on the Budget, chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, responding to a question from former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith asking for a return to the subject of FOBTs, said: "We have brought the date forward for the FOBTs by six months. I don't believe it's an issue for the Finance Bill but I am certainly happy to discuss it with my honourable friend about what more we can do."

Earlier in the day Wright said it had been agreed Crouch would not attend the Commons as she had travelled back from the US overnight.

However, while Wright said Crouch was doing an "outstanding" job, he added the FOBT decision had been taken by government collectively and did not answer Watson when asked if Crouch had resigned.

Watson said what he described as the delay in implementing the change was "extremely disappointing" and a "betrayal" of the actions of his predecessors.

He added: "In capitulating to the gambling industry, the secretary of state has not just let the victims of gambling addiction down; he has let his own team down, and ultimately he has let himself down."

Culture secretary Jeremy Wright denied there had been a delay
Wright insisted there had not been a delay in implementation and that the government had in fact brought forward the change in FOBT stakes from April 2020.

He added: "While we want a healthy gambling industry that contributes to the economy, we also need one that does all it can to protect players.

"This is a significant change that will help to stop extreme losses by those who can least afford it, and we are taking decisive action to ensure that we have a responsible gambling industry that protects the most vulnerable in our society."

It had also been reported that MPs who have campaigned against FOBTs, including Duncan Smith, were due to meet next week to discuss tabling an amendment to the Finance Bill in an attempt to force a climbdown by the government.

Bookmakers have claimed that there will be large-scale betting shop closures as a result of the cut in FOBT stakes, leading to thousands of job losses.

It has also been estimated that British racing will lose between £40 million and £60 million in income from media rights and levy as a result of the closures.

Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, whose Tewkesbury constituency includes Cheltenham racecourse, asked Wright to give time to allow both the bookmaking and horseracing industry to adapt to the changes and mitigate against those losses.

In reply, Wright said: "I understand what my honourable friend says, but I would argue that we are allowing sufficient time for those industries to adapt.

"He is right that we need to consider such issues, but we have done that, and our approach properly allows those industries to adapt as they ought to and also allows the government to do whatever we can to mitigate any economic harm that might arise from this measure – necessary and right though it undoubtedly is." 

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said Crouch had left a "positive legacy" for racing
Reacting to the news, BHA chief executive Nick Rust thanked Crouch for the work she had done for the racing industry.

He added: "Her leadership and determination played a significant role in helping to bring about reform to the sport’s funding mechanism, the revenues from which will improve the welfare and livelihoods of our people and our horses.

"The introduction of the Sports Governance Code under her leadership has rightly focused our sport's leaders on transparency, accountability and integrity.

"The challenge to become more representative of society has been taken up by racing and we have appointed our first head of diversity and inclusion to the BHA. Tracey Crouch has left a positive legacy to British racing."

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I hope you understand my position and accept my resignation with the sadness it is tended
E.W. Terms