Was the Government hoping everyone would just forget about their overdue review of FOBT stakes and prizes?
The Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes is long overdue, and the Government could not provide any indication of when it will begin when responding to the second reading of Lord Clement-Jones’ Bill, which advocates a reduction in the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 a spin to £2.
More recently, the Bishop of St Albans sought clarity from the Government over their Triennial Review evasion. “Fixed Odds Betting Terminals have now been dubbed as the crack cocaine of gambling. The government has consistently said it will take action on their use, if and when evidence as to their social and personal harm becomes readily available. Yet it was reported in the media that last year, the government blocked a targeted review which had been requested by DCMS. In the light of the tragic stories, which are continuing all too frequently in the media at the moment, caused by these machines, will the government now commit to a full, targeted review of FOBTs and their use?”
Responding for the government, the Earl of Courtown said Ministers will “consider the findings” of the recently published evaluation of their policy, which requires players to identify themselves if they want to bet more than £50 a spin, and “this will inform the timing of the next review”. But the findings have already been considered, and the Government’s position was published in their evaluation .
Lord Collins picked up the Triennial Review baton, saying it is “overdue” and asked if the timing will be announced. But the Earl of Courtown again did not commit, saying “the Government is open minded and will set out its views in due course”.
Lord Strasburger then referenced former Paddy Power Chairman Fintan Drury, who called for urgent action on FOBTs after writing in The Times last week : “At the heart of the gambling sector there is a troubling partnership between government and industry.” Lord Strasburger asked, “Is that troubling partnership the reason why the Government does nothing but procrastinate about FOBTs, and why it’s trying to defend the indefensible?”
The Triennial Review baton was then handed to Lord (Toby) Harris, who noted that the Earl of Courtown had said the Minister “was keeping a close eye on the question of the Triennial Review. How then can it be a Triennial Review, and is the Government not breaching the obligations set for it in terms of holding such a triennial review?”
The Earl of Courtown said the Minister Tracey Crouch was “keeping a careful view on when the Triennial Review takes place. The first Triennial Review took place in 2013.”
At which point Lord Collins interjected: “Which means my Lords, it is overdue! It is overdue, and it took – the last one – took 12 months to conduct. So by the time it reaches a conclusion we’ll be well over nearly five years so it won’t be a Triennial Review anymore.”
The Earl of Courtown then responded to laughter in the chamber: “Well… my Lords…. I thank Lord Collins for making it perfectly clear. Erm… I do realise of course I haven’t been able to get any dates on this but I will ensure the House is made aware as soon as any decision is made.”
Meanwhile, over in the House of Commons, Jim Shannon MP was granted a three hour Westminster Hall debate on FOBTs, although the motion for the debate remains undecided. However research has shown stake reduction to be the only effective means for reducing harm . So the government may be under even more pressure to hold a Triennial Review soon.
Philip Davies MP is likely to be bobbing up and down on the backbenches during the debate, fighting the bookmakers’ corner. It was recently revealed by The Times that Mr. Davies enjoys a betting account with Ladbrokes that affords him preferential treatment, but Mr Davies is increasingly isolated. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s objective is a reduction from £100 a spin to £2, and 93 local authorities agreed when they backed Newham Council’s proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act (SCA).
Although this proposal was initially rejected, it was re-submitted by the Local Government Association and the government are forced by the SCA to “try to reach agreement”. These negotiations are now underway and are likely to conclude in the summer. So, as much as the Government have tried to get away from looking at the stake on FOBTs, there is nowhere left for it to run.