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Time for a FOBT U-turn? Cameron criticised by Boris as he calls for £2 cap on “dangerously addictive” terminals

Time for a FOBT U-turn? Cameron criticised by Boris as he calls for £2 cap on “dangerously addictive” terminals

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling points out that the Mayor of London has now spoken out against fixed odds betting terminals. It calls on the Government and DCMS Ministers to act to reduce the maximum stake as soon as possible

“They can be dangerously addictive, their promise of whopping wins only gives false hope, and they prey on the vulnerable within our society”. That isn’t a quote from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, or the Scottish Labour Leader, or a Council Leader, it is the Mayor of London Boris Johnson speaking to the Daily Mail- calling for the stakes to be cut on FOBTs.

The tide hasn’t just turned against the bookmakers and their £1.5 billion a year profitmaking machines – it is now a tsunami of opposition. Earlier this month Jim Murphy MP, the Scottish Labour leader, joined the Liberal Democrat gambling spokesperson John Leech MPin calling for a £2 cap, whilst in Westminster Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, threw his weight behind a cross party moveto oppose the ludicrous £50 “permission” threshold proposal offered by the Conservatives.  

Outside Westminster the 93 Councils led by Newham have called on the Conservatives to cut stakes to £2, writing a letter to each party leaderwhich states: “Reducing the stakes on these machines is a crucial step which we would hope to see introduced alongside additional licensing measures to help reverse the decline of high streets nationwide. This would be real localism at work.”

The Labour Party, as David Cameron rightly points out, allowed the proliferation of FOBTs, but the Labour leader and many of the ministers responsible at the time have already acknowledged it was a mistake. Cameron’s claim that “there are actually now fewer of these machinesthan there were when Labour were in office” was shattered when the Gambling Commission published its latest industry statisticslate in 2014.

They showed a huge surge of more than 1,200 FOBTs in the last 12 months to 34,436. In fact, the number of FOBTs is now up by 5% since Cameron became Prime Minister and the number of betting shops is up from 7,322 in March 2010 to 9,068 in 2014 – up by 23%. At our event in London last week to launch our latest analysis of FOBT gambling, the Campaign revealed there are actually 9,442 active or granted betting shop licencesacross the country.

So the last Labour government may have caused the betting shop FOBT mess, but Cameron and the ministers he has appointed responsible are allowing it to get a whole lot worse. Yet the Tories still plan to push through a £50 identification threshold before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the General Election, supported by no evidence and with concerns that it could actually exacerbate problem gambling on FOBTs. 

Our sources in the bookmaking industry have informed us that at least one of the corporate operators is already advising staff to encourage use of debit cards now that players are being forced by the government to remote load their money onto the machines from the counter. Not only that, but guidance is also being issued to encourage playing two machines at the same time!

If David Cameron thinks the bookmakers, despite their new socially responsible branding in the form of the Senet Group, are serious about dealing with the consequences of FOBT gambling, then he should think again. It is the Campaign’s view that the bookies pulled the wool over the eyes of the last Labour government and that Cameron too is now being suckered by them.

The bookmakers must be very worried, though. Cameron is definitely no “ son of Thatcher” when it comes to carrying out a  complete U-turn on policy, as his latest one on plain packagingfor cigarettes exemplifies. The bookmakers have dropped their wild claims of economic disaster and job losses should a £2 cap be introduced because nobody believes them.

Nobody, other than the bookmakers and organisations like the Responsible Gambling Trust, genuinely believes that FOBTs do not cause significant harm. So will Cameron continue to allow his two responsible ministers Sajid Javid and Helen Grant to carry on dancing to the bookmakers tune?

When your political opponents say you are wrong, that is to be expected, but when senior figures in your own party, firstly Eric Picklesand now Boris Johnson, start saying you are wrong, then another U-turn before the end of this Parliament could be in sight.

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