The government’s decision to impose a £2 cap on fixed-odds betting machines has been met with a delay that could see the legislation held off until October 2019.
On Monday the Budget will be announced by chancellor Phillip Hammond, and it is believed that he will announce the delay on imposing new regulations that would lead to a cut in the maximum stake allowed on the FOBTs to £2.
The hold-up could net bookmakers, who learned of the rule changes back in April, more than £900 million in revenue should they decide not to act upon the new laws until the deadline in a year’s time.
IDS Wades In On ‘Complete Rubbish’ Delay
The original decision came when Hammond heard from cabinet ministers of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that the FOBT machines were considered the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’, and he acted decisively to implement new measures that would restrict players to the £2 maximum stake in a timed session.
But now critics are suggesting the chancellor is deliberately delaying the decision in order to generate more tax income from the operators, with Theresa May already announcing an end to austerity measures and Hammond having to find the cash to give to the NHS and other public services as a result. The Treasury, it is believed, earns around £450m in tax from the machines every year.
The new culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, was quizzed in a select committee meeting about FOBTs on Wednesday, and he confirmed that while he believed the stake cut to be a ‘very good thing’, it was also essential to give bookmakers more time to get their houses in order prior to implementing the legislation. That would ensure fewer redundancies, Wright continued.
One critic of Wright’s answer was former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who labelled his party colleague ‘evasive.’. “It clearly sounds like we won’t see this until the autumn of next year,” he said.
“Once that decision was announced, there was no way back. The idea they have to wait for the statutory instrument is complete rubbish.
“If they haven’t made the changes, it’s hard luck on them. They’re just playing for time, but there are people who are suffering.”
The former secretary of state for work and pensions also said that he and fellow anti-FOBT politicians would ‘mount further action’ if the stake cut is out back until October.
A Winter of Discontent for the Bookies?
Bookmakers and betting operators are already counting the cost of the maximum stake even though it is yet to be introduced.
William Hill announced a loss of some £820 million back in August when the government’s plans were revealed. The firm’s share price plummeted, and is only starting to strengthen now in the wake of acquisitions and mergers with betting operators in the US.
And conditions could be set to worsen for sportsbook platforms after it has emerged that the chancellor plans to increase the current tax levy on gambling brands from 15% to between 20-25% in his upcoming Budget announcement.