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Peers debate FOBTs in House of Lords 'Motion of Regret'

Peers debate FOBTs in House of Lords 'Motion of Regret'

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

'A peer describes the Government as “a bunch of tossers” in a debate on FOBT regulations' writes the Campaign for Fairer Gambling

Yesterday evening saw a debate take place in the House of Lordsregarding the Government’s proposed measures to deal with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). Labour, led by Lord Collins of Highbury, tabled a “ Motion of Regret”, and whilst it is convention for the main parties to not vote against Statutory Instruments, it was an opportunity for Peers to express their concerns with the proposals.

Lord Collins stated that the Government still cannot explain why they came to decide how limiting stakes to £50 a spin before customers sign up to a loyalty card will deal with problem gambling or deal with the hardship high stakes machines cause. “Many will see this is a sham. If there’s one thing worse than inaction it is the pretense of action,” Lord Collins argued.

He also highlighted how Tessa Jowell, the Minister responsible for passing the 2005 Gambling Act which legitimised FOBTs, expressed concern at the growth of the betting industry driven by these machines and their impact on problem gambling. He reiterated her view at the time that there was: “No certainty these machines would remain as we cannot know what the consequence might be.”

Lord Collins outlined Labour’s policy, which will require licensees with FOBTs to have at least two members of staff on duty at any one time. A “lack of evidence” is often cited as a reason for the Government’s inertia, despite research on FOBTs recently being published by the Responsible Gambling Trust. Lord Collins pointed to a report carried out by Professor Linda Hancock and Shannon Hanrahan, the Chief Executive of the Outcomes Group, which evaluated the Responsible Gambling Trust’s research. Lord Collins quoted their conclusions: “It focused on problem and at risk gamblers but failed to assess the impact of the features of FOBTs on inducing that particular playing style. Whilst bookmakers have such influence over the research agenda and the commissioning process, we will never get to grips with this issue.”

Lord Lipsey described the measures as “too little, too late” – too late because the Government has taken a year to implement these regulations, and the scrutiny committee questioned whether they could have been brought forward more expeditiously. Lord Lipsey referred to his contribution in a previous debate, where he compared those who played FOBTs to practicing onanism before arguing that “the Government has shown themselves to be a bunch of tossers on this one.”

He went on to say that he is fed up of hearing there’s no evidence: “There is enough evidence to proceed on a precautionary basis, but [the Government’s proposal] is not enough of a precaution given the scale of the problem.”

Similarly, Lord Clement-Jones argued that the measures do not address the critical element, which is the £100 stake: “Only a stake reduction to £2 – as in all other easily accessible premises – will prevent harm. There is no evidence bookmakers are serious about tackling problem gambling. These proposals are predicated on the notion that they want to tackle it, but Professor Jim Orford has claimed that 40% of profits from FOBTs come from problematic gamblers.”

Lord Clement-Jones argued for a stake reduction on a precautionary basis, and that the onus should be on the bookmakers to demonstrate stakes above that level are safe. He pledged that the Lib Dems would ensure this if they were in a position to do so.

Lord Dubs expressed his sadness that the Government was putting forward something that will cause harm: “It cannot do much at best, it will do harm at worst. I am sorry this proposal is being put forward, and very much regret what the Government are doing.”

Baroness Jolly responded on behalf of the Government, which “considers the future of FOBTs to be unresolved”. Despite being a Lib Dem Peer, whose policy is a £2 cap on FOBTs, she stated the Government’s view that a reduction to £2 is not proportionate. The justification for this is that “problem gamblers gamble on a number of products” and “significant proportions of problem gamblers staking at lower levels but we find many of those staking at higher levels are doing so safely.”

On the first point, problem gamblers might gamble on different products but this does not mean they are addicted to, or gamble with the same frequency or experience the same losses, on other products in comparison with FOBTs.

On the second point, 80% of those who bet an average of £13.40 or more a spin are problematic gamblers, compared to 20% who bet under £2. It should not be the priority of the Government or the regulator to protect high rollers at the expense of protecting the vulnerable. The Campaign has always believed that reducing the stake would reduce the harm that FOBTs can cause.

Baroness Jolly expressed alarm at reports from Lord Collins that staff were being trained to inform customers about playing two machines at the same time to circumvent the new measures, and to encourage customers to use debit cards when remotely loading cash. She said this was “a cause for alarm bells from her perspective” and committed to informing DCMS of these developments.

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