In the gambling sector the topic which has caused the most debate over recent times has been Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT), the higher stake and pay out machine permitted in High Street betting shops. The Gambling Act 2005 classified FOBTs as B2 gaming machines….those who have been involved in the sector pre-dating the Gambling Act will remember that they crept on to the High Street. The betting industry persuaded regulators (and the casino sector) that FOBT were not gambling machines under the old act and were exempt from regulation, due to the random number generator set up of the machine. To avoid the threat of Court, an agreement was drawn up between the casino trade organisation and the betting industry to put a cap on the number of machines per shop and the maximum stakes and prizes.
Under the Gambling Act up to four can be sited on premises which have a betting premises licence. The maximum stake for a single prize is £100 (in multiples of 10). The maximum prize is £500.
Those who are anti FOBT have christened them the ‘crack-cocaine’ of gambling and allege that they can become instantly addictive . The speed of play, high stakes and prizes have led the anti-FOBT campaign to be highly critical of their exposure on the high street. However, they are legal, permitted as of right to operators who have the correct operating and premises licence. In addition, they are highly profitable for the betting industry and at times over the last 10 years have been a significant reason for the increase in the number of betting shops, in areas of high footfall.
They certainly have their critics and some Local Authorities have attempted to stem the flow of new licences. They have lobbied the government to try and reduce the increase in the number of betting shops and also to reduce the rate of play, stake and prizes.
The Gambling Industry was holding its breath waiting to see the outcome of the election. The Labour party were pushing for restrictions and changes, but there wasn’t too much known in advance in Conservative policy. Not a great deal was happening in the run up to the election waiting to see what would happen after the new government was established.
The House of Commons Library has now issued a briefing paper on FOBTs for the benefit of MPs. It sets out details of the perceived issues around them, previous consultations, betting industry initiatives and potential outcomes.
The Government has indicated that it was working with the Gambling Commission and industry to ensure that the Player Protection Measures introduced from April 2015 are to be ‘effectively evaluated’.
On 3rd June 2015 a Private Members’ Bill was introduced into the House of Lords. This has some key issues, which, if it becomes effective legislation, would reduce the maximum individual charge for a single player on a B2 machine from £100 to £2. This would have a massive hit on the profitability of these machines and the Industry is sure to lobby hard against this Bill.
The attention that FOBT’s get is not going to lessen due to the amount of Parliamentary and Regulatory scrutiny and we will continue to track developments in this area.