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Will the Prime Minister walk the walk on FOBTs?

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling asks if the new Prime Minister and a newly appointed Secretary of State at DCMS will be able to address the problems caused by fixed odds betting terminals.


The new Prime Minister has made remarkable speeches and commitments, cloaking herself with some of the more central and even left-of-centre policy positions. With the current uncertain economic and political influences and the austerity overhang, it is essential to rein in rapacious predatory and parasitical corporate interests.

The behaviour of Mike Ashley Esq and Sir Philip Green which recently came to light is so easy to justify if “market forces apply” and “I complied with the law” are the only relevant standards. But Britain needs long-term entrepreneurialism that acts morally and ethically and benefits society as a whole. Enterprises that cause greater harm than benefit to the economy and society are pariah enterprises that must not be given “House” room in either the Commons or the Lords!

There should be a review of remote gambling - a sector that grossed £3.6 billion in the past year based on Gambling Commission statistics. Advertising, terms and conditions, dormant account funds, affiliate relationships, trading in grey markets are just some of the issues that should be investigated alongside unethical practices like those deployed by Betfred providing pay day loans to minimum wage staff. However, all of this will take time and detailed legislation to adequately address. With so much else on the agenda, it seems unlikely that this will be addressed before 2020.

FOBTs are a different matter, because government already has the power to introduce a statutory instrument without primary legislation. FOBT approval in the 2005 Gambling Act was accompanied by the gift to the DCMS minister to reduce maximum stakes from £100 to £2 per spin if there was evidence of harm at stakes in excess of £2 per spin.

It seems a no-brainer – of course there is evidence of harm. The deniers can deny – but the onus is on them to prove FOBTs are not harmful. Harm is not just gambling addiction, it’s the impact on new young, vulnerable, at-risk gamblers and the impact of binge gambling driving anti-social behaviour on our high streets. It’s the consequential negative impact of the socio-economic costs.

FOBTs are also the bane of local authorities who are required by law to play a role in achieving the Act’s licensing objectives. That is why they are concerned about crime in and around betting shop premises and mistreatment of staff through violence and abuse.

The demands made on staff (who are often working alone, often young, female, part-time and working unsocial hours on minimum wage) are intolerable. They are neither trained nor qualified to be counsellors. They are being put at risk of violence when emerging from the safety of their protective cages behind the counter. The corporate bookmakers of today make Mike Ashley and Philip Green look like Father Christmas and Santa Claus!

Under Cameron and Osborne, like the last Labour Government, the bookies got a free pass and stay of execution. There was never the “proper look” that Mr Cameron promised the House. Mr Osborne denied that he was behind the delay in the 2016 Triennial Review, but was unable to explain who was behind it. John Whittingdale, previously in charge at DCMS, was never going to act against FOBTs. He chaired the CMS committee that recommended allowing more FOBTs per betting shop.

Now, with a Home Office background of law and order we have Theresa May as Prime Minister and Karen Bradley in charge at DCMS. In charge specifically of gambling at DCMS is Tracey Crouch who has a strong prior record of speaking against FOBTs. The women of today can do a far better FOBT job than the gentlemen of yesterday.

The inherited FOBT mess contains all the following aspects:

FOBT devolved powers in Scotland are inadequate
The flawed DCLG planning change is impotent
The DCMS £50 threshold measure has failed
The Newham proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act (SCA) calling for stake reduction has so far been resisted by government but without any evidence based explanation, contrary to government obligations under the SCA.
The Triennial Review of Stakes and prizes might not occur until after the EU Brexit status has been resolved.
The media stories of FOBT harm, crime and violence will continue to roll on as a toxic drip of negativity which effects the public perception of all gambling sectors.

The Responsible Gambling Trust, despite claiming it is reducing harm, has admitted it doesn’t know how to measure harm and is paying PWC, (yes, the big accountancy firm) £40,000 to do the research. At PWC rates, will there be enough time to draft the document? Be ready for lots of caveats and a suggestion that more research is needed!

As everyone knows it is easy for all politicians to talk the talk. Even with the best intention to walk the walk, sometimes unforeseen events prevent best delivery. But this FOBT issue is so simple. The Campaign FOBT stake reduction objective is so easy to deliver.

The Prime Minister walking the walk on FOBT stake reduction will let the public know she does mean business when dealing with business. Not stepping up and putting a best shoe forward on FOBTs will be a sign that the Tories are still only talking the talk and cannot be trusted.

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