It is a hot potato that has been passed around betting industry figures for some time, and once 10 Downing Street became involved it seemed as though action would be taken.
Should the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals be decreased? It’s a question that has been debated in parliament, with opposition to FOBTs labelling the machines the ‘crack cocaine of betting’. Punters can wager up to £100 every 20 seconds at a terminal – the equivalent of £18,000 an hour.
It was expected that a cut to the maximum stake to £2 was imminent – the recommended amount as detailed by government consultation, which would have cost bookmakers tens of millions in yearly revenue, impacted upon UK horse racing (which benefits from the bookies’ margin) and, of course, the socio-economic cost of job losses caused by a financial downturn. Indeed, a report from KPMG revealed that a cut to £2 would cause 3,000 betting shops to close and result in some 15,000 job losses.
The government’s culture secretary, Matt Hancock, gave the green light to the consultation which recommended a cut in maximum stake to somewhere between £2 and £50; with the smaller amount expected.
But a decision, which was supposedly imminent, has been allegedly delayed by the chancellor, Phillip Hammond, until after the local elections on Thursday May 3.
It’s a canny move from Hammond, who realises he simply cannot please everyone on the thorny subject of FOBTs.
If he brings in the £2 maximum, that will rather disgruntle the humble punter and a rather heavyweight industry as a whole; not ideal prior to the polling stations opening.
But any rejection of a crackdown on the top wager will bring the Tories under intense scrutiny from opponents of the betting terminals; and increase speculation that they consider bookmakers a tax-revenue laying golden goose. The Treasury made some £500 million in gambling tax during the previous financial year.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
The consultation from the UK Gambling Commission recommended different maximum stake amounts across the board, with slot games set at £2 and other types of game, including roulette, subject to a £30 maximum.
“We’ve put consumers at the heart of our advice – advice which is based on the best available evidence and is focussed on reducing the risk of gambling-related harm,” said the Commission’s chief executive, Neil McArthur.
They also recommended that all players’ sessions be restricted to one game type, with ‘tracked play’ mandatory across a number of these categories.
Mike Dixon, the chief executive of Addaction, a charity which supports individuals with problems with addiction, has argued that the Commission’s report ‘let down’ those vulnerable to FOBTs, although Grant Humphrey, an industry veteran, applauded the Commission for recognising ‘the different risk to players of each type of game’.
Meanwhile John White, the chief executive of the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (BACTA), said: “We were deeply concerned by the Gambling Commission’s advice that a stake level of up to £30 should be considered on FOBTs excluding slots.
“This analysis reinforces those worries, demonstrating the clear link between high-loss sessions on FOBTs and stake levels of between £5 and £30.
“It could not be clearer that only a £2 stake maximum can help protect vulnerable people from major losses on these machines, which are the source of so much needless and avoidable harm.
“A £2 stake is the only safe and sensible option to limit the damage caused by FOBTs, and we urge Government to acknowledge this and act.”