The DCMS review is out, the days of FOBTs are surely numbered
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling comments on the Government's long awaited consultation on fixed odds betting terminals which begins today and runs until 23rd January 2018.
The DCMS triennial review has announced a 12-week consultation on a range of proposals. The options for the FOBT maximum stake of £50, the Campaign objective of £2, or an intermediate amount of £30 or £20.
The Campaign would have preferred to have prevailed in the 2013 review, when a reduction to £2 could easily have been adopted under the precautionary principle to protect consumers from the suspicion of harm. Waiting for another consultation might feel frustrating, but DCMS must protect the evidence-based process and prevent the bookies from being able to succeed with a Judicial Review (JR).
Ironically, a “senior source” from the bookies made the mistake of disclosing to the Guardian that the bookies had taken advice from counsel and been advised that they would not prevail unless they could “prove the minister was insane”.
The Campaign itself has recently commenced JR proceedings against the Treasury regarding their exclusion of most gambling sectors from the 4th EU Money Laundering Directive. This would have required betting shop gamblers wagering more than £1,500 total in a day to be required to provide ID. The Treasury claim that the excluded sectors are “proven low risk” despite the Gambling Commission describing FOBTs as a “high inherent money laundering risk”. This JR is based on a position that Treasury did not consider the evidence.
The hardest part of the review for DCMS to get right is its policy on advertising and social responsibility. With Brexit-induced limitations on new primary legislation, the chosen measures will inevitably err on the soft side. This makes it more likely that erring on the soft side on FOBTs is less viable, making a reduction to £2 more likely.
The Campaign view is that DCMS ministers are not insane. A comment in the Sun that “Mrs. Crouch favours a £20 level as it is a 'serious but workable” change” is fake news, generated by a bookie source. Tracey Crouch will not be giving clues suggesting that DCMS has already pre-determined the outcome.
The bookies now have a difficult decision. Should they elect to support £50, because that is what they prefer or £30 or even £20 because it looks like £50 would not be acceptable? If they accept that there should be a stake reduction, what evidence could support £20 rather than £2? Paddy Power’s CEO has already advocated a reduction to £10 or less, so presumably Paddy Power will be backing £2.
Business journalists and stock analysts, the bankers and investors in symbiotic relationships with the bookies, have been giving credibility to the notion that the stake could be reduced to around £20. They are ignoring that government has not yet given a final decision under the Sustainable Communities Act proposal. Backed by 93 local authorities, it calls for a reduction to £2 and the government is bound by legislation to try to reach agreement on that.
They are also forgetting that there has to be a Statutory Instrument (SI) or wrongly assuming that if the SI is for £20, that Labour would not pray against it. Unless the SI is for £2, it is likely to go to a vote, and it would be odds on that it would be defeated. Would the government really want to risk any political capital they will get out of reducing the maximum stake by advocating £20 instead of £2? The bookies’ FOBT party will soon be over.