One of the biggest surprises that came from the chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget announcement a few weeks ago was that the legislative changes to FOBT machines would be delayed by six months in order to let bookies ‘get their house in order’.
It was a decision met with widespread derision from most in UK politics and everyone who had lobbied for the rule changes.
New laws will impose a £2 maximum stake on the FOBT machines, which have been called the ‘crack cocaine’ of betting. The regulations passed governmental approval, but their implementation has been delayed until October 2019 so that bookmakers can come up with plans to overcome their loss of earnings.
It’s a move that has been labelled ‘irresponsible’, to put it mildly, by some, while former UK sports minister Tracey Crouch even resigned from her position such was her frustration at the proposed delay. “Unfortunately, implementation of these changes are now being delayed until October 2019 due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests,” she wrote in her resignation letter.
Now, more than 70 MPs from across the political divide, including Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, have joined forces to post two amendments that would legally require Hammond and co to bring forward the law change to April 2019.
How Has This All Come About?
Following a thorough consultation conducted by the Gambling Commission, amongst others, it was reported that FOBT machines were causing a societal blight and leading to addictive behaviour.
As such, recommendations were made to reduce the maximum stake allowed in a single session from £100 to £2.
The government accepted the proposal, and many campaigners believed the new laws would be brought into play immediately.
The chancellor’s delay was not foreseen, and now critics are furious that more lives will be harmed as Hammond seeks to protect the profits – and thus the taxes – of gambling operators.
Heading for War
An incumbent government hasn’t been defeated on their own Budget bill in more than 40 years, and yet that’s the predicament facing Theresa May and co as a sizeable group of rebels – including big hitters like BoJo and JRM – look set to join forces.
The two amendments that the rebel group have brought together will be put up for debate on November 21, and one of these would stop the government from raising remote gaming duty to 21% until the FOBT rule change has been actioned.
Carolyn Harris, the Welsh Labour deputy leader who has been a vocal critic of FOBTs, confirmed the amendments had been proposed. “We’re going to be tabling a new clause and amendment to the Finance Bill and force the government into doing the right thing.
“There’s a huge feeling in the House that this is the wrong decision and we need to implement it as a matter of urgency.”
One possible workaround from the government’s perspective is that they could drop the increase to remote gaming duty altogether, which would then get around the amendments, but that would create a taxation shortfall that is needed to fund increased payments to the NHS and other public services.
The last time a government lost a Budget vote was in 1978; it will be interesting to see if Hammond and his cronies tread new ground in one of the most contentious issues in betting today.