Labour supports a £2 maximum on FOBTs – but where is the Government?

Posted On: 
4th October 2016

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling calls on the Conservative party to join all opposition parties in the UK in pledging action on fixed odds betting terminals and stake limits.

A high street betting shop
Credit: 
PA

Two weeks ago, the Conservative Party steering a new direction under the reigns of Theresa May, seized the initiative on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) briefing the Daily Mail that a review and “clampdown” were imminent. This weekend, the Labour Party signalled a change in their policy approach to the bookies’ £100 a spin roulette machines with Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Kelvin Hopkins MP, announcing they will enforce a maximum £2 stake, as reported in the Sunday People.

So, whilst clarity from the Conservative Government is awaited on what their clampdown means, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party have all backed a £2 cap. Like Newham and the 92 Councils, they are leading in a call to see the stakes cut and all four opposition parties now recognise that reducing the stakes is the most effective solution to the plethora of issues caused by FOBTs.

Scottish Labour backed a £2 cap before the 2015 General Election, whilst the SNP has consistently sought stronger devolved powers to help them deal with the issue. The powers they have so far been granted fall far short of allowing any effective curbs on betting shops and their harmful machines. Similarly, in Wales the Labour Party joined with Plaid Cymru in a last ditch bid to get greater powers for the Welsh Assembly over FOBTs.  

To any rational observer, the political pendulum has now swung so strongly against FOBTs that a “clampdown” would seem inevitable. However, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling hears that the bookmakers are warning that any stake reduction beyond £50 per spin would be unacceptable and are waving their “nuclear” legal option in the air – a Judicial Review if the Government dare to be so bold as to cut the maximum stake to £49 or lower.

The bookies’ trade body, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and its Chief Executive Malcolm George, are coming under heavy criticism for their failure to at least try and defend FOBTs in the recent BBC Panorama investigation. When they do roll out their key defence team – as they did for an inquiry into FOBTs in Scotland – it generally ends in disaster with accusations of heavy handed lobbying. The end result? A convincing call for FOBTs to be banned.

The Westminster inquiry into FOBTs currently being held by the new All Party Parliamentary Group hasn’t questioned the bookmakers or the ABB CEO yet. Will the bookies do another “Panorama” and refuse to be interviewed? Or maybe they are too busy at the moment organising their latest “Back your local bookie”, the same campaign they pushed in 2013 in an attempt to swerve another possible “clampdown”. They may want to avoid being scrutinized in public by journalists and politicians, but they are more than happy to rerun tactics that mislead shop workers and punters by overstating that jobs and betting shops are in danger.

Despite the best efforts of the Lib Dems in coalition, Cameron and Osborne, like Blair and Brown before them, failed to stand up to the bookmakers.

This is 2016 though and the FOBT political landscape has changed immensely since 2013 with the Labour Party now slotting in the penultimate piece of the jigsaw puzzle that spells the end of FOBTs. The final jigsaw piece from the Conservative Party will be the one that consigns FOBTs and their £100 stakes to history.