Even the bookies’ parliamentary apologists have deserted them over FOBTs - Campaign for Fairer Gambling

Posted On: 
21st December 2018

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes that despite Brexit dominating Westminster politics, legislation reducing the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 a spin on 1st April 2019 has now completed its passage through parliament.

Credit: 
PA

Amidst the chaos of Brexit, the legislation that will reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 a spin on 1st April 2019 finally made it through the House of Commons and House of Lords this week, with unanimous support.

But while none of the bookies’ natural supporters in Parliament opposed the policy, Labour MP Conor McGinn, who chairs the All Party Group for Racing and Bloodstock, spoke in the legislation committee about his concerns “in relation to racing and the impact that these changes could have on it”. McGinn started by claiming that the Gambling Commission recommended a reduction to £30, when in fact it had effectively left the decision with government having advised it should be set at “£30 or less”.

McGinn then went on to claim gambling in a betting shop may be "safer" because other people are present. This despite the weight of evidence that shows FOBTs to be particularly addictive, with more than two in five users experiencing gambling problems. MP for Glasgow East David Linden interjected, pointing out that many of his constituents have “never touched a computer”, highlighting the difference in the betting shop demographic to online gambling.

McGinn then stated that the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) told him that 20,000 betting shop workers stand to lose their jobs and he “has no reason to disbelieve that”. There are, of course, plenty of reasons to disbelieve it. Not least that the KPMG report this figure was based on was funded by the bookies, using selective data that was misrepresented by the ABB and discredited by one of the ABB’s own members, Paddy Power.

In the Minister’s response, Mims Davies told McGinn that there is “considerable uncertainty” about the ABB’s figures, and that some operators had told the government they would not be making redundancies off the back of the stake cut. Ms Davies correctly pointed out that given the announcement was made in June 2018, the sector would have had the 9-12 months it said it required by the date of an April 1st 2019 implementation.

When the government announced this implementation date, it assured betting shop staff that it would support them into new employment or training if necessary. So the government are likely to be made aware of just how inflated the bookies’ “project fear” estimates over job losses actually were. If McGinn really cared about jobs and staff in betting shops, he would advocate the end of lone working - a policy that has been rolled out across the corporate operators, at the cost of jobs in the sector and at the expense of health and safety.

Much of McGinn’s argument was predicated on the assumption this decision would be bad for racing. While McGinn claims racing is the “second highest attended sport in the country”, he attempts to argue that racing cannot survive because FOBTs are capped at £2 a spin, despite having been around for decades before high stakes machines were introduced to betting shops in 2001. If McGinn cares about racing losing out to other forms of gambling, he should support capping FOBTs at £2 a spin, given bookmakers have consistently substituted their racing customers onto machines they know to be addictive.

But most surprisingly perhaps, despite his rigorous defence of the bookmakers’ position over FOBTs, McGinn did not object to the legislation on the committee, and it was agreed unanimously. Even the bookmakers’ Parliamentary apologists have finally deserted them over FOBTs.

Conor McGinn has responded: "I’d encourage the reliably discerning PoliticsHome audience to read my speech HERE and compare it to the considerably less considered ad hominem advertisement above. I’m confident they’ll be able to draw their own conclusions about this article’s accuracy."