An extraordinary APPG meeting to deal with extraordinarily harmful FOBTs - Campaign for Fairer Gambling

Posted On: 
14th March 2018

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes about the broad coalition of different organisations that support a reduction in FOBT stake levels to £2 against the betting companies which are reluctant to accept this and predict shop closures as a result.

Credit: 
PA

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FOBTs, chaired by the very hard-working Labour MP Carolyn Harris, will be holding an extraordinary meeting on March 19, in advance of the government’s imminent response to the gambling review. The APPG now has a loss tracker that shows how much has been lost on FOBTs since the DCMS review started are now at around £2.5 billion, of which over £1 billion will be from at-risk and addicted gamblers.

The extraordinary meeting will bring together the coalition of stakeholders supporting a reduction to £2, including the Royal Society for Public Health, the Local Government Association, the Church of England Synod, Bishops, Peers, MPs and the Labour Party. This reflects the growing consensus among editors, commentators, political and consumer journalists that have followed FOBTs closely, who think the only logical conclusion DCMS can come to is £2 a spin.

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Meanwhile some business journalists and those in the trade press are still quoting the bookies’ discredited statistics from the bookie-funded KPMG report. They then assert that the market has factored in a £20 maximum, without providing any analysis of why government will not choose a £2 maximum.

A group of small bookmakers even wrote to the Prime Minister in the midst of Brexit negotiations, claiming they were “the backbone of the British economy”. They even managed to get a sycophantic journalist to place this as a ‘news’ story.

The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) – the bookies’ trade body – is essentially controlled by the big two, Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill, who control the majority of betting shops between them. By signing more favourable deals with FOBT suppliers, and clustering shops near independent bookmakers, many small bookies have been forced out of business because of the predatory approach of the corporates. A few years’ ago, one independent bookie removed FOBT content from his machines unilaterally after a customer he knew committed suicide after he got addicted to it.

The other corporate bookie in the ABB, Paddy Power, is telling their shareholders that they would not be closing any shops as a consequence of a £2 maximum. Its co-founder, Stewart Kenny, has also backed mandatory restrictions on losses: “The present system of voluntary deposit limits simply hasn’t worked.” In Ireland, betting shops are thriving without FOBTs, after the machines were banned in 2012 on the basis of the harm they were causing in Britain. But always one step ahead of the UK, one Irish political party has called for restrictions on how much gamblers can lose.

Jack Chambers of Fiana Fáil said, “It is abundantly clear that the existing mechanisms put in place by betting firms, which have the stated aim of protecting gamblers, are entirely insufficient and are not protecting addicts from suffering huge losses. New measures are urgently required. It is shocking, shameful and reprehensible that gambling companies facilitate problem gambling by allowing infinite losses and the government has done absolutely nothing to tackle this. I am determined to bring in proper and effective legislation to address this growing problem and help problem gamblers.”

But the UK is catching up, and the only lingering question mark is the Treasury. At the hearing for the Judicial Review of Treasury action in excluding betting shops from the latest EU money-laundering directive, seated alongside the Treasury solicitor was Paul Darling QC, Chair of the ABB. The Judicial Review was denied as the Treasury is able to decide whether something can be deemed “low risk”. The recent William Hill fine of £6.2 million for money laundering is just one example of how wrong Treasury has got that issue.

The Treasury should factor into its position the impact of FOBT losses on the wider economy, on declining high streets, as well as the social and economic cost of addiction and gambling related harm that disproportionately results from FOBTs. The Green Book guidelines are clear that the wider economic impact should be factored into any decisions, but if the Treasury really wanted to recoup any revenue from gambling directly, Philip Hammond could have quite easily increased point of consumption tax on remote gambling from 15% to 25% in his Spring Statement.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FOBTs, chaired by the very hard-working Labour MP Carolyn Harris, will be holding an extraordinary meeting on March 19, in advance of the government’s imminent response to the gambling review. The APPG now has a loss tracker that shows how much has been lost on FOBTs since the DCMS review started are now at around £2.5 billion, of which over £1 billion will be from at-risk and addicted gamblers.

The extraordinary meeting will bring together the coalition of stakeholders supporting a reduction to £2, including the Royal Society for Public Health, the Local Government Association, the Church of England Synod, Bishops, Peers, MPs and the Labour Party. This reflects the growing consensus among editors, commentators, political and consumer journalists that have followed FOBTs closely, who think the only logical conclusion DCMS can come to is £2 a spin.

Meanwhile some business journalists and those in the trade press are still quoting the bookies’ discredited statistics from the bookie-funded KPMG report. They then assert that the market has factored in a £20 maximum, without providing any analysis of why government will not choose a £2 maximum.

A group of small bookmakers even wrote to the Prime Minister in the midst of Brexit negotiations, claiming they were “the backbone of the British economy”. They even managed to get a sycophantic journalist to place this as a ‘news’ story.

The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) – the bookies’ trade body – is essentially controlled by the big two, Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill, who control the majority of betting shops between them. By signing more favourable deals with FOBT suppliers, and clustering shops near independent bookmakers, many small bookies have been forced out of business because of the predatory approach of the corporates. A few years’ ago, one independent bookie removed FOBT content from his machines unilaterally after a customer he knew committed suicide after he got addicted to it.

The other corporate bookie in the ABB, Paddy Power, is telling their shareholders that they would not be closing any shops as a consequence of a £2 maximum. Its co-founder, Stewart Kenny, has also backed mandatory restrictions on losses: “The present system of voluntary deposit limits simply hasn’t worked.” In Ireland, betting shops are thriving without FOBTs, after the machines were banned in 2012 on the basis of the harm they were causing in Britain. But always one step ahead of the UK, one Irish political party has called for restrictions on how much gamblers can lose.

Jack Chambers of Fiana Fáil said, “It is abundantly clear that the existing mechanisms put in place by betting firms, which have the stated aim of protecting gamblers, are entirely insufficient and are not protecting addicts from suffering huge losses. New measures are urgently required. It is shocking, shameful and reprehensible that gambling companies facilitate problem gambling by allowing infinite losses and the government has done absolutely nothing to tackle this. I am determined to bring in proper and effective legislation to address this growing problem and help problem gamblers.”

But the UK is catching up, and the only lingering question mark is the Treasury. At the hearing for the Judicial Review of Treasury action in excluding betting shops from the latest EU money-laundering directive, seated alongside the Treasury solicitor was Paul Darling QC, Chair of the ABB. The Judicial Review was denied as the Treasury is able to decide whether something can be deemed “low risk”. The recent William Hill fine of £6.2 million for money laundering is just one example of how wrong Treasury has got that issue.

The Treasury should factor into its position the impact of FOBT losses on the wider economy, on declining high streets, as well as the social and economic cost of addiction and gambling related harm that disproportionately results from FOBTs. The Green Book guidelines are clear that the wider economic impact should be factored into any decisions, but if the Treasury really wanted to recoup any revenue from gambling directly, Philip Hammond could have quite easily increased point of consumption tax on remote gambling from 15% to 25% in his Spring Statement.