Investigation finds operators circumnavigating FOBT rules

An investigation by the Guardian just two days after the introduction of new £2 limit on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) has accused bookmakers of bypassing the new rules.

Slot machines in a casino

Major UK bookmakers have introduced new games on the same day as the new FOBT stake rules. © Pixabay.

The investigation found that high-stakes terminal games have been launched in the retail outlets of numerous bookmakers in the UK, all with maximum stakes much higher than the new £2 limit. The issue has been forwarded to the Gambling Commission who have launched their own investigation.

The Gambling Commission wrote to operators on Monday to warn them about conforming with the rules and to remind them of their duty of protecting consumers.

However, the Guardian found Betfred and Paddy Power have launched roulette-style games where customers bet on the outcome of a virtual event. Betfred’s “Virtual Cycling” game has a stake limit of £500, five times higher than the previous FOBT limit.

Paddy Power have introduced a game called “Pick n 36” with a £100 stake limit. In both games, players bet on a number between 1 and 36, in much the same way as roulette.

Ministers and campaigners have expressed outrage at the news. Shadow culture minister, Tom Watson, one of the most prominent campaigners against FOBTs, said:

These new games seem like FOBTs by the back door and look like a pretty disgraceful example of bad faith by the bookmakers involved. They appear to be trying to cheat the system. The gambling industry fought FOBTs reform tooth and nail, never accepting the terrible social harm they caused. They clearly haven’t learned any lessons – if they won’t reform themselves a Labour government is determined to do it for them.Tom Watson, Shadow culture minister.

However, while Watson may have a point that the games are not in the spirit of the ban, they seem to technically be legal. Customers bet at the counter and on a slip of paper, not directly via the machine. The event is then played out virtually on the machine.

FOBT stakes were cut with the goal of reducing gambling-related harm, something that campaigners argue these new machines will cause. The Gambling Commission will be monitoring the situation, as Helen Vinn, executive director at the Commission said:

We are aware of these products and we are investigating. We have been extremely clear about our expectations in relation to how operators should implement the stake reduction. This is why we have been monitoring developments closely and last week we wrote to operators to remind them of their responsibilities to ensure consumers are protected. Where we see businesses failing to act responsibly in response to the stake reduction we will not hesitate to step in.Helen Vinn, UK Gambling Commission executive director.

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