Betting machine stakes cut to £2

Betting machine stakes cut to £2

The maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will be reduced to £2 under new rules unveiled by the government.

Currently, people can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games such as roulette.

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said reducing the stake to £2 “will reduce harm for the most vulnerable”.

But bookmakers have warned it could lead to thousands of outlets closing.

William Hill, which generates just over half its retail revenues from FOBTs, described the government’s decision as “unprecedented” and warned that 900 of its shops could become loss-making, potentially leading to job losses.

It said its full-year operating profit could fall by between £70m and £100m.

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GVC Holdings, which owns Ladbrokes, said it expected profit to be cut by about £160m in the first full year that the £2 limit is in force.

Ms Crouch said: “We recognise the potential impact of this change for betting shops which depend on (FOBT) revenues, but also that this is an industry that is innovative and able to adapt to changes.”

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, told the BBC’s Today programme: “The great tragedy of this is [that] for five years now pretty much everyone in Westminster, Whitehall and in the country has known that these machines have had a very detrimental effect in communities up and down the land.

“The bookmakers have chosen to take a defiant approach, trying to face down parliament, really, with a very aggressive campaign.”

Betting machine stakes cut to £2

The Church of England praised ministers for “admirable moral leadership” for reducing the maximum stake.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, said: “Fixed-odds betting terminals are a scourge on High Streets that have taken advantage of the vulnerable for too long.”

Analysis: Amol Rajan, BBC media editor

In taking the most drastic of the options available to them on FOBTs, the government has indicated that gambling is on a journey much like nicotine a generation ago.

Many addictive behaviours chart the same course. First, they are commonly accepted, then victims speak out and a campaign is launched. Finally, new laws catch up with a shift in public sentiment.

Industry figures argue that what is at stake is not only jobs and revenues for the Exchequer, but the principle that in a free society fully informed adults should be free to spend their money as they choose, so long as it doesn’t harm others.

Campaigners have successfully argued that the harm to communities and individuals is severe enough to warrant a major change.

It’s vital to remember that, while FOBTs understandably grab the headlines, this review also looks at the radical shift of the industry online.

There many addicts who find there is no respite, and children with smartphones are potentially exposed.

Tighter regulation of online gambling is the next battle campaigners intend to win.

Reducing harm

The government’s consultation into gambling machines found consistently high rates of problem gamblers among players of FOBTs “and a high proportion of those seeking treatment for gambling addiction identify these machines as their main form of gambling”.

Ms Crouch said FOBTs were “an outlier in the world of high-street gambling because of the speed with which it is possible to lose large amounts of money”.

She said the £2 limit would “substantially” reduce harm and protect the most vulnerable players.

“Even cutting to £10 would leave problem gamblers, and those most vulnerable, exposed to losses that would cause them and their families significant harm.”

The Gambling Commission’s consultation on FOBTs for the government had recommended a limit of up to £30.

Betting machine stakes cut to £2
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Terry White lost up to £15,000 per day on fixed-odds betting terminals

Anti-gambling campaigners have condemned the machines, saying they let players lose money too quickly, leading to addiction and social, mental and financial problems.

Matt Zarb-Cousin is now a spokesman for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling but was previously addicted to FOBTs.

“It’s no exaggeration to call FOBTs the crack cocaine of gambling,” he has told the BBC.

“If we had a gambling product classification, similar to that of drugs, FOBTs would be class A.”

‘Reputational damage’

Commenting on the government’s decision, William Hill’s chief executive Philip Bowcock, said: “The government has handed us a tough challenge today and it will take some time for the full impact to be understood, for our business, the wider High Street and key partners like horseracing.”

GVC Holdings said it was “disappointed with the outcome, particularly given the previous independent evidence on stake cuts published by both the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board”.

However, Peter Jackson, chief executive at Paddy Power Betfair, said: “We have previously highlighted our concern that the wider gambling industry has suffered reputational damage as a result of the widespread unease over stake limits on gaming machines.

“We welcome, therefore, the significant intervention by the government today, and believe this is a positive development for the long-term sustainability of the industry.”

Source: BBC News

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