According to the Gambling Commission – the industry regulator – there are 430,000 problem gamblers in Britain and a further 2 million at risk of developing a gambling problem. Nearly 14% of people who use Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are problem gamblers and in 2016, £1.8 billion was lost on these high-speed machines.
I am extremely concerned about the epidemic of problem gambling and the real damage that FOBTs can cause. These machines can ruin lives and I have long believed the maximum stake should be reduced from £100 to £2 and that the delay between “spins” should be increased to reduce the addictive nature of these games.
Following pressure from both inside and outside Parliament, it was announced in May 2018 that the maximum stake would be reduced to £2. The Government said it would give the industry time to implement the changes. However, I do not think anyone thought it would take until 2020, as was initially suggested.
The implementation date was announced in the Budget on 29 October. The Chancellor stated that the £2 stake would come into effect in October 2019.
I believed this was the wrong decision. The maximum stake should have been cut to £2 by April 2019 at the very latest, as promised.
Since then and following the principled resignation of the Minister leading on this Bill, Tracey Crouch, the Government have U-turned on its decision to delay the implementation of the stake reduction (£100 to £2). Faced with defeat on an amendment to the Finance Bill the Government’s U-turned and thankfully the stake reductions for these harmful machines will now be brought forward to April 2019.
The Government is covering the cost by increasing a tax on offshore gambling companies (Remote Gaming Duty), a decision which should have been taken in the first instance.
You can read the written statement by the Government here
It is telling that the Secretary of State issued this statement via a Written Statement and not by addressing the House of Commons. He was perhaps feeling humiliated after announcing the delay only a matter of days previously. Indeed, it is very sad that it took an honourable resignation of a good minister (Tracey Crouch) and a cross party revolt to achieve the blindingly obvious and necessary reforms to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
Well done to Tracey Crouch, Carolyn Harris, victims’ families, charities, faith groups and members of the public who fought so hard for these changes.