British Government in Fixed Odds Betting Terminal Cap U-Turn

Theresa May’s government has bowed to public pressure and will bring forward the introduction of a £2 FOBT maximum stake in April next year, six months earlier than the proposed implementation date of October 2019 as stated in the budget.

Slot machines in a row in a casino

Government U-Turn on FOBTs © Pexels.

The government have performed a U-turn over their plans to allow bookmakers to wait until October 2019 to restrict the amount customers can stake on controversial fixed odds betting terminals. A highly publicised backlash from MP’s including senior Conservative figures such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis has forced the government to climb down.

Although the government had received praise for introducing the cap on the maximum stake, much of the compliments turned to loud complaints when widespread rumours of a delaying of the implementation proved true. Many accused the government of collusion with the bookmakers with both standing to receive a hefty windfall. Bookmakers alone standing to gain £800m by a six-month delay.

Iain Duncan Smith expressed his dismay at how the government had turned a positive into a negative. The former Conservative leader used the Prime Minister’s Questions session to quiz the Prime Minister on the timing. He said:

I was enormously proud of my government for agreeing to lower the stake on fixed-odds betting terminals to £2 because they have caused endless harm, terrible damage to families and it was the right decision. Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP

The 64-year-old asked why there was a lack of transparency of when the cap would begin, saying: “Since then, there has been a hiatus about the date at which this would start.” The Prime minister responded by saying “I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue. I know gambling addiction can devastate lives.” This was the first indication of a change to the October date.

The government started to look at the impact that FOBT had on communities, especially less affluent areas in 2016. Many blamed these machines for increasing figures of problem gambling. The FOBT is often referred to as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling with a £100 stake being able to be spent every 15 seconds. High profile news reports and documentaries including the highly respected BBC Panorama covered the topic and increased pressure on the government to act.

Bookmakers were opposed to any cap on the machines, citing job losses and store closures if they were introduced. At the very least the bookmakers called for a grace period to allow for the conversion of the machines and to allow the bookmakers to explore other income streams. This request looked to have been agreed when the chancellor, Philip Hammond announced in this year’s budget that he would not be introducing the cap until October next year.

News of this delay led to the immediate resignation of sports minister Tracey Crouch. The highly respected Conservative MP accused the government of breaking an agreed timeline on the cap’s introduction. She stated that she was resigning as a matter of principle as she wouldn’t be able to look people in the face who had suffered at the hands of gambling addiction if she supported this decision. Crouch had spent three years working on the government’s FOBT review which led to the changes.

According to insiders, the humiliating government backtracking was forced when an amendment to the budget was signed by more than 100 cross-party MPs. The Labour party confirmed they would be supporting the amendment which meant the government was almost certain to lose the vote. A separate letter that was signed by 12 senior Conservative MPs that was sent to the chief whip Julian Smith is also thought to have played its part in the forced re-think.

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