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A week in politics – the FOBT implications

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling reflects on the potential of future FOBT regulation under the new Prime Minister. 


Congratulations to Teresa May on becoming Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. On the busy news day that finally saw resolution to the vacuum in government, the Campaign published an article on Central Lobby - “Government obligations under the Sustainable Communities Act” (SCA) which was regarded as important enough to be included on the Breakfast Bulletin and the Green Room at PoliticsHome.

Mrs May eloquently explained that her party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. The unionist component must involve respecting and embracing local authority recommendations. The abject failure of the Cameron government to abide by the SCA obligations in handling the Newham proposal to reduce maximum stakes per spin on FOBTs from £100 to £2 is indefensible.

The 2013 promise to the House of the ex-PM to “have a proper look at FOBTs” was never delivered. No research was ever conducted to consider the impact of stake reduction. No research into FOBT related crime was ever conducted.

Sajid Javid at DCMS in April 2014 proposed the £50 threshold staking measure which took until April 2015 to introduce. This measure showed how many FOBT gamblers would rather gamble anonymously at stakes of £40 to £50 than disclose very minimal ID in order to obtain a loyalty card to gamble at stakes in excess of £50.

DCMS claims that it is still considering the “findings” of an Evaluation of the measure. If it could find the Campaign analysis of the Evaluation on our site, then it would know how useless this measure is.

As Mr Javid is now at DCLG, the mess of trying to avoid dealing with FOBTs has followed him as the SCA responsibility is a DCLG matter, even though resolution rests with DCMS.

George Osborne has been accused of blocking the proposed 2016 Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes on machines, which would have been well under way by now. With John Whittingdale at DCMS there were always doubts that anything would ever be done about FOBTs.

Mr Whittingdale had chaired the incompetent CMS committee which in 2012 advocated that more FOBTs should be allowed and Philip Davies MP still commends that CMS report, in denial of all the contrary evidence. The removal of Mr Whittingdale from DCMS is one of many positive signs from Mrs May.

The new PM has a better understanding of law and order issues from her time at the Home Office than any other government minister. It is inevitable that there will be consideration of whether or not to apply EU money laundering standards in the UK, regardless of Brexit.

Whilst the Campaign has always advocated that bookies should be included under the EU4 money-laundering regulations, on parity with casinos, this would not prevent all FOBT money-laundering.

It is the high stakes on Roulette which facilitate legitimisation of the proceeds of crime. Betting on all numbers for equal amounts, ensures a loss of only 2.7% of total stake per spin. The best way to prevent money laundering would be to reduce the maximum stakes.

The prevalence of other betting shop crimes such as damage to machines and premises and abuse of, and violence to staff is primarily FOBT related and could be reduced through FOBT stake reduction.

Mrs May has appointed Karen Bradley to head DCMS. Ms. Bradley worked with Mrs May at the Home Office and was involved in Preventing Abuse and Exploitation in respect of drugs and alcohol. With gambling addiction now being recognised as a mental health issue on parity with those addictions, Ms Bradley will be a breath of fresh air compared to the stale and controversial air of Mr Whittingdale.

Whilst David Evernett, acting for Tracey Crouch, and Ms Crouch herself, now back at DCMS after maternity leave, are both committed to addressing FOBTs, they have a historical hang-up to deal with. This is the perception of DCMS staff that the Gambling Commission should be relied on for advice.

The latest Gambling Commission statistics were released recently but received minimal media coverage due to all things political. However, the report produced headlines to guide the media agenda.

The report noted that there was a decline in numbers of FOBTs of 0.8% over one year and a decline in betting shops of the equivalent of 3.3% over 2 years. It did not however highlight that there had been an increase in FOBT losses of 8.3% over 18 months, an astounding increase of £130 million!

Yes, bookies profit per shop and per FOBT are still increasing despite the £50 threshold measure. Other measures that have not impacted FOBT profits growth are the bookies “Responsible Gambling Code” and the bookie-funded Senet Group “responsible” gambling messages. Perhaps there is a reason all these measures are useless?

Mrs May appears determined to help individuals and society be protected from the avarice of predatory corporations and the privileged few. Dealing promptly with FOBT stakes would be a powerful message that she could easily deliver.   

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