This week marked the launch of party manifestos, which codified the success of the Stop the FOBTs campaign to date. Support for action on FOBTs from across the political spectrum – including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP – illustrates how this issue transcends political ideology.
It is not “nanny state” to argue in favour of sensible gambling regulation. Allowing FOBTs with a maximum stake of £100 a spin in easily accessible high street locations is clearly not reconcilable with that objective.
UKIP recognised this in their manifesto, saying that they will “update licensing laws in response to calls from local authorities to limit the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 down to £2, to tackle problem gambling anti-social behaviour”.
% increase in betting shops located in town and city centres
We’re all local here – the policy issues that will win or lose this General Election
The response to local authorities refers to Newham Council’s submission under the Sustainable Communities Act – supported by 92 other local authorities – which
called for a stake reduction to £2 a spin. The next government will have around a month to respond to this submission.
The Liberal Democrats included a pledge in their manifesto to “..substantially reducing the maximum stakes for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals”. The Campaign has always held the view that gambling-related harm is quantified by losses, and so the £100 a spin staking capacity – which facilitates high speed casino games such as roulette – is inherently problematic.
The Liberal Democrats are therefore right to call for these stakes to be substantially reduced. Whilst John Leech, the Liberal Democrat gambling spokesperson, has previously
called for a £2 cap, the commitment is less explicit.
A triennial review of stakes and prizes for all gambling machines is due in April 2016, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said that this will include a provision to reduce the maximum stakes.
With other gambling sectors now publically questioning £100 machine stakes in betting shops and the disparity with their machines, which are capped at £2 per spin, the triennial review could be dominated by this question: What is a safe and responsible staking level on the high street?
Whilst the Campaign welcomes Labour’s acknowledgement of the issues caused by FOBTs, the devil is in the detail in terms of their manifesto commitment. The pledge to allow a review of betting shop licenses by “communities” with the power to reduce the number of FOBTs, or even ban them, sounds like local empowerment. However, Labour might simply be proposing conditions be added to the framework under which betting shops currently operate – the
Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice.
Communities would then have to provide an extensive evidence base to support calls for a reduction or ban on FOBTs. It will take a strong case to encourage a licensing committee to take this path, especially whilst facing the prospect of a legal challenge from betting shop operators.
However, Labour’s DCMS spokesperson Lord Collins has suggested this power would be granted through “an amendment to the 2005 Gambling Act”. This would have the potential to change the framework for licensing completely. It is the Campaign’s view that this would be necessary in order for this proposal to be effective.
Whilst Labour has not ruled out a stake reduction, it is clear what local authorities are demanding when 93 councils have called for a stake reduction to £2 a spin. This makes no inclusion of a £2 cap even more disappointing, not least because
Scottish Labourhas tackled FOBTs head on by calling for precisely that. It is surprising that Labour has decided not to follow Jim Murphy’s lead on the issue.
With the Labour Party culpable for allowing FOBTs on our high streets over a decade ago, the Campaign hopes that, if a Labour-led government is formed after the General Election, the party will realise that reducing the maximum stake to £2 a spin is the only solution to dealing with the social problems FOBTs cause, the violence and crime in shops and the clustering of betting shops on our high streets.
The Campaign is also optimistic that the Liberal Democrats and UKIP will exert influence on this issue in any coalition they might be included in, with a view to taking credit for being the party that finally solved this problem.