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Even Ian Rankin’s latest Novel targets Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – any hope for the Industry?

We should all soon know the result of the long-awaited review of FOBTs, which is being carried out by the Government and which is expected to be announced very shortly.

The outcome of the review has already been delayed, allegedly following an argument between the Treasury and the Government Department responsible for the gambling industry over regulation of the machines. The Guardian also reported on 30 June 2017 that MPs in the Democratic Unionist party are in favour of cutting the stake from £100 to as low as £2. In the same article, Tracey Crouch MP, the Conservative Minister responsible for the review, confirmed that gambling advertising would be looked at as well, and that the results of the review would be not “kicked in to the long grass”.

The importance of this review cannot be understated, both for those who are looking for a significant cut to the maximum stake, and for those in the industry who are opposing any draconian measure and who hotly dispute allegations made by the anti-gambling lobby. Even Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus thriller “Rather be the Devil” has scenes in which detectives are looking into betting shops and in particular fixed odds betting terminals. “Plenty of jaunty blips and beeps and colourful lights. Not just high-tech one-armed bandits, but versions of blackjack and roulette too…”; “…a quid gone in 15 seconds”. The Detective Inspector visiting the betting office even enquires with the cashier as to whether or not he can still get a bet on horses in these premises.

The Guardian’s article reports that there are 34,388 FOBT machines in the country, which contribute around £4 million in taxes every year. The Treasury therefore must be concerned at the impact that any review may have on the amount of tax it takes from the gambling industry. Meanwhile, on the other side of the argument, Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, has made clear his distaste for FOBT machines and accuses bookmakers of seeking to “protect their huge profit made at the expense of the vulnerable”.  

The book-making industry led by the Association of British Bookmakers has constantly urged any review of FOBT machines to base its decision on evidence and fact, instead of on scare-mongering led by the anti-gambling lobby. The Association of British Bookmakers has itself been accused of scare-mongering by arguing that a significant curb to FOBT stakes could lead to a significant number of shops closing, 20,000 jobs being lost, and the Treasury deprived of millions of pounds in taxes. It is easy to find numerous articles written on this subject, although many articles often drift into a wider moral discussion on gambling and, in particular, on online gambling and advertising.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has argued against FOBTs for many years and has often referred to these machines as “the crack cocaine of gambling”. Mr Zarb – Cousin of the Campaign has said: “In the early days when I used to do local radio interviews about my addiction, the radio host would say something like, “These are just fruit machines” and I would say “Well actually, no, these have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling””.

Whatever the outcome of the review, this is unlikely to be the end of the story. The bookmaking industry appears to accept that there will be some reduction in stakes, but it is unlikely that the reduction will go as far as the anti-gambling groups wish. So this debate is likely to go on for some time. It is to be hoped that the outcome of the review can be based on evidence submitted to it and not merely on speculation. It is without a doubt one of the most important issues that has surrounded the industry and its customers for many years.