Government reverses controversial FOBT delay

The government has abandoned its plans to delay the reduction in the maximum stake allowed on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Association of British Bookmakers claim that the maximum stake reduction would lead to the closure of more than 4,000 shops.

The announcement that it was cutting the maximum stake it was possible gamble on the controversial machines from £100 to £2 was made earlier this year (DDN, June, page 5), following a lengthy campaign from MPs and charities (DDN, September 2014, page 6). However, November’s budget saw chancellor Philip Hammond state that the reduction would not come into force until October 2019, angering many MPs and prompting the resignation of sports minister Tracey Crouch. The reduction will now be brought forward to next April.

It is estimated that the machines – often called the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ – can account for around half of betting shop takings, with the Association of British Bookmakers stating that the maximum stake reduction would lead to the closure of more than 4,000 shops. Crouch’s resignation letter cited ‘commitments made by others to those with registered interests’ as the reason for the delay.

Tracey Crouch MP said she was pleased the government had reversed its position and ‘common sense has prevailed’.

‘The government was right to agree that the maximum stake should be reduced from £100 to £2,’ Ms Crouch wrote in the Times. ‘But it was hugely disappointing that the implementation was delayed to October next year instead of April, as most had expected it. That is why I resigned two weeks ago. I simply could not defend any delay knowing that two people every working day were estimated to take their own lives because of gambling problems. I’ve held the hands of too many addicts who have contemplated suicide, or the families left behind because loved ones saw no other way out, for me to be able to justify or even explain the delay.’

The decision to abandon the delay would ‘affect many lives for the better and reduce harm on our high streets’, she added. ‘There are many more gambling issues that need to be dealt with including online harm, advertising and the poor standards of treatment for addicts, but on this issue alone I am glad common sense has prevailed.’

Tracey Crouch comment at www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/i-don-t-feel-vindication-just-relief-cf7pnq8vr (paywall)

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