The trade body for bookmakers, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) has described a report by MPs on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) as “deeply flawed” after it called for the maximum stake on the terminals to be cut from £100 to just £2. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FOBTs said the maximum amount a punter can stake on a single spin should be reduced to £2 in its final report of a six-month inquiry following growing disquiet among politicians about the harm being caused on Britain’s high streets by the machines.
The report said: “We were disappointed that the bookmakers declined to participate and fear this is a reflection of their denial of the problems associated with FOBTs and a reluctance on their part to speak to policy makers about appropriate regulation.”
The group Chairwoman Carolyn Harris said:
“There is now a clear case for the Government to substantially reduce the maximum stake which can be played on FOBTs. The time for prevaricating is over. These machines are easily accessed in the most deprived areas, sucking money out of the pockets of families. I support a responsible gambling industry, but there is nothing responsible about how FOBTs are currently being operated. I urge the Government to take action now.”
The ABB warned such a move would be a “hammer blow” to high street bookies and threaten thousands of jobs. It demanded an immediate inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into the APPG, which it condemned as a “front for vested commercial interests”. ABB Chief Executive Malcolm George said: “This is a deeply flawed report funded by vested interests who would directly benefit if its recommendations are ever implemented.”
They said the parliamentary group had no proper standing; that its report merely reflected the views of certain MPs with an axe to grind; and that the report had been funded by rivals in the gambling industry, such as those in the casino, arcade and pub industries.
“We strongly believe that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should urgently investigate this all-party parliamentary group,” said Malcolm George, Chief Executive of the Association of British Bookmakers.
“This group of MPs has operated in secrecy, provided no transcripts of the evidence given to their meetings and operated throughout behind closed doors away from public scrutiny.”
He added that betting shops were already closing at the rate of more than 100 a year and if the findings of this report were implemented, it “could spell the beginning of the end for the High Street Bookmaker”.
The Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, Simon Blackburn, said: ” As well as leading to spiralling debt, problem gambling can impact on individuals and their families’ physical, mental and emotional health and well-being as well as having a wider impact on society through crime and disorder. With rates of problem gambling higher among those who live near clusters of bookmakers, it is essential that, as the report also recommends, councils are given powers to stop further clusters of betting shops on our high streets.”
The MPs in their report said they had given the bookmaking firms plenty of opportunity to submit evidence. Despite the bookies’ opposition to the report, Carolyn Harris MP said the time for prevaricating was over and the government should now take action.
The 35,000 machines, primarily offering roulette, have become the biggest source of money for the bookmaking industry and now provide more than half its profits.
The report cited figures showing that in 2015 £1.7bn was lost by gamblers on the terminals, each of which took on average £48,724 from punters that year.
The industry’s enthusiasm for the machines has seen it accused of spreading gambling addiction in some of the poorest parts of the country, especially where there are unusually high concentrations of bookies shops in local high streets.
The MPs repeated their previous call for the spin speeds of the electronic gambling machines to be reduced to slow down the speed of repetitive betting. And they also said that the number of betting terminals in each shop should be cut from the current limit of four.
The MPs also took a swipe at the Gambling Commission, which regulates most betting in Great Britain, saying it had been slow off the mark and had failed to do its job properly, “We urge the Gambling Commission to take an active role in advising the government to fully regulate FOBTs and to look into accusations of any malpractice by bookmakers or gambling premises more widely.”
There has been no more divisive product in the gambling sector since they were introduced many years ago. They make significant profits for the betting industry but their existence has always generated a significant debate. If observers thought that the latest chapter was to bring a conclusion to the debate they are significantly mistaken. There is no doubt that the betting operators will fight to protect their rights to offer the facilities, it now appears that other vested gambling interests maybe promoting those who oppose their very existence.
The “Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group Report” can be found at the following link:
We will continue to monitor developments and report as and when there is more information available, but it appears the FOBT debate will continue to be a significant issue for the betting industry.