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Dissolution – but no resolution to the FOBT issue

Dissolution – but no resolution to the FOBT issue

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling marks the dissolution of Parliament and the start of the General Election campaign. It is hopeful that a £2 cap on fixed odds betting terminal will be achieved in the next Parliament.

Last week, the final business of the House concluded, before we enter the home stretch ahead of the General Election. The Government’s regulations pertaining to FOBTs will come into force on April 6th, but whilst a debate on these measures took place in the House of Lords, the government refused to grant a debate in the Commons.

The government’s Statutory Instrument (SI) – an amendment to the 2005 Gambling Act requiring those who stake above £50 a spin on FOBTs to seek permission from staff or sign up to a loyalty card – took the form of a “Negative Resolution” which does not require a debate in order to become law. However, if it is objected to by the Opposition or a considerable number of MPs, the convention dictates that a debate in both Houses is granted and a vote is taken on the legislation.

Objections take the form of an Early Day Motion (EDM, with Liberal Democrat gambling spokesman John Leech (candidate in Manchester Withington) tabling one shortly after the SI was laid. This was followed by both Labour gambling spokesman Clive Efford (candidate in Eltham) and Ed Miliband adding their name as co-sponsors to EDM 782. Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, who has called for a £2 cap on FOBTs, also signed the EDM, putting his name alongside 60 MPs in total. The list of supporters also included Green party candidate Caroline Lucas, and SNP candidate Mike Weir, whose party recently passed a motion calling for power over FOBTs to be fully devolved. However, the final decision on whether to grant a debate rests with the government, and despite the will of Parliament, the request was refused.

By denying a debate on the measures, the government has prevented its proposals from getting the scrutiny they would have inevitably been subjected to - especially if the recent House of Lords debate is anything to go by.

During the debate Lord Collins, Labour’s DCMS spokesman, condemned the proposals, describing them as a “sham” and arguing that “there is one thing worse than inaction and that is the pretense of action.” Lord Lipsey went one step further, calling the government a “bunch of tossers” - with reference to both the content of the proposals and the year-long delay in enacting them.

The government’s proposals are symptomatic of a willingness to perceive significant issues that require firm action, as mere “public relations” problems.

Inevitably, when an issue is perceived only as a public relations problem it receives a “smoke and mirrors” solution. Could this type of approach be designed to deceive the electorate into believing that substantive action has been taken and the issue is resolved?

A resolution, of course, could not be further away. But it is not surprising that the government failed to take firm action by reducing the maximum stake on FOBTs. When Helen Grant MP was appointed gambling minister, the most pressing issue in her brief was FOBTs. Her first duty in government was to report on the triennial review of stakes and prizes in 2013, which recommended no change in the £100 a spin staking level on FOBTs. This failed to put the issue to rest politically, and the pressure on the new Minister was maintained.

Her response was to invite the Chief Executives of the largest bookmakers to monthly roundtable discussions, perhaps believing it is in the interest of the bookmakers to want to reduce problem gambling - despite more than 40% of FOBT revenue coming from problematic gamblers. In her entire time in office, Ms. Grant met with other interest groups, including the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, only once.

It is the Campaign’s opinion that the betting industry has had significant influence over the formulation of such watered down policies. Policies that have not only failed to address the issue of harm caused by FOBTs, but have also failed to deal with the public relations problem these machines have caused.

Despite assurances that it would, the government decided against responding to Newham Council’s submission under the Sustainable Communities Act, which called for a reduction in the maximum stake to £2 a spin. This was supported by 92 councils, all of which believed that strengthening planning regulations would not solve the problems caused by betting shop clustering - as they would be neither retrospective nor deal with FOBTs.

As Newham must receive a decision within six months of submission, the next government will have around a month to respond. If it is rejected, the Local Government Association will re-submit the proposal and enter into up to six months of negotiations with government, during which time the government is responsible for ensuring agreement is reached.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling looks forward to the new Parliament, and is optimistic that its objective of a £2 cap on FOBTs will be achieved.

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Read the most recent article written by Campaign for Fairer Gambling - DCMS Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes now 'long overdue'