The UK Gambling Commission has returned their verdict on the future of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) found in bookmakers’ shops, and they will recommend to the government that a maximum stake of £30 is implemented in a bid to curb problem gambling.
The findings of the Commission’s report, which was undertaken at the behest of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, have drawn ire from some sections; particularly the politicians who had been lobbying for a £2 maximum wager to be introduced.
A second section of the report notes that the Commission would introduce a £2 stake limit for traditional fruit machines and slots.
But opponents of FOBTs don’t believe the Commission’s recommendations aren’t tough enough. Tom Watson, Jeremy Corbyn’s right-hand man at Labour, said: “This is a deeply disappointing report from the Gambling Commission, which appears to have caved in to industry pressure. Ministers must not use this report as a cover to maintain the status quo.
“These machines are the heart of the UK’s hidden epidemic of problem gambling. The government must cut the stake to £2 on all FOBT machines, including the highly addictive roulette style games.”
Against All Odds: What are FOBTs?
If you’ve been in a betting shop recently you will have noticed the computer-like terminal posted in the corner of the room. These are Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, and they offer a number of instant play games for punters, with the most popular being roulette.
The furore over the future of FOBTs has been over the amount that people can wager, rather than their presence in bookmakers’ shops. Punters can feed the machines with an infinite amount of cash in any given session; leading to the FOBTs being christened as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling.
The machines were introduced to betting shops in 1999, but have soared in popularity in recent years to coincide with the economic downturn.
They first came under scrutiny late in 2016, when the government requested a call for evidence as to their perceived harm upon society, and they must now decide whether or not to pass the UK Gambling Commission’s recommendations into law.
The Money Game
When the government announced they were looking into FOBTs and their usage it drew fury from a multitude of betting firms, who have recalled at length how important the machines are to their turnover.
A reduction in stake from £100 to £2 would yield some 80% less in profits for the bookmaker, according to the Commission’s study, and naturally the betting industry is keen to do everything they can to preserve the rights of their customers.
FOBTs generated nearly £2 billion tax revenue for the government in 2017, and yet a reduction in stake to £2 could cost the industry some £5.5 billion over the next ten years, according to the figures.
The Association of British Bookmakers also predicted that some 15,000 jobs would be lost in betting shops would be lost with the reduction in stake limit.
Jim Mullen, the chief executive of Ladbrokes Coral, said that ‘we are very clear that stake cuts will fail to adequately address any issue of problem gambling.’
“The industry has also always made it clear that a cut to stakes will have serious consequences – resulting in shop closures which will ultimately affect jobs, tax revenue and the funding of racing,” he continued.
“There is also no evidence that machine customers will switch their spend to sports betting such as horse racing, and our experience is that they won’t.”
Despite the release of the report, the feeling on Fleet Street is one of optimism that the £2 maximum stake is unlikely to be introduced. The share price of both William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral rose 3% today.