Decision on FOBTs imminent as another suicide is linked to the crack cocaine machines

Posted On: 
10th May 2018

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes in advance of a Government decision expected shortly on stake levels for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Credit: 
PA

Late last week, the Guardian reported that Theresa May faces a Commons revolt if the government proposes a maximum stake on FOBTs higher than £2 a spin. A letter to the Prime Minister from Iain Duncan Smith, co-signed by 25 Conservative MPs, argues that the government has a “moral duty” to restrict FOBTs. Given Labour and Lib Dem policy is £2, and many SNP and DUP MPs support £2, any decision other than £2 would put Theresa May at risk of becoming the first prime minister to suffer a defeat on a statutory instrument since James Callaghan 40 years ago.

So it was somewhat inevitable that a Whitehall source told the Sunday People: “We’re going for the £2 option. No question about it. And you can tell your readers that.” Such a move, as the Campaign has had as its objective since 2013, would eliminate the most addictive roulette content, that allows users to gamble up to £100 a spin. It’s a move backed by 93 local authorities, the Royal Society for Public Health and the Church of England’s General Synod. A YouGov survey of more than 100 MPs also found 62 per cent were in favour of it.

The decision cannot come soon enough. The Sunday Herald Diary revealed that Keir White, a 24 year old from Kilmarnock, had taken his own life following a struggle with gambling addiction. He had tried to ban himself, self-excluding from the betting shops in his area, but too often this is not upheld. A cut to £2 a spin will help prevent addiction and reduce harm to those already experiencing it.

The Campaign has long warned of the consequences of allowing high stakes casino content on easily accessible machines, in low regulation premises and usually in more deprived areas. As well as the huge degree of harm associated with this form of gambling, FOBTs are incredibly susceptible to money laundering.

Last week, the Manchester Evening News revealed that a criminal gang in Manchester, which had stolen £193,000 from banks, used FOBTs to launder dyed notes. Betting shop staff would only realise at the end of the day, when the machines were emptied. On receipt of the dyed notes, bookmakers are able to exchange them for non-dyed notes.

A Guardian investigation back in 2013 revealed that a drug dealer called “James” bet £20 on black, £20 on red and £2 on zero, which would deliver a loss of £2 but if it lands on 0 a win of £72. In theory it is possible to bet £48 on red, £48 on black and £4 on 0, laundering £1000 in 200 seconds at a maximum cost of just £40. The money launderer can then cash-out, and the FOBT prints a ticket. This ticket can either be cashed in at the desk for “clean” money, and a receipt is sometimes requested, or transferred to a bank account via a debit card. In some cases, the print-out receipts are stored or used as a form of currency.

The Gambling Commission also highlighted the case of West Yorkshire Police executing a warrant, granted under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, at the home address of a suspected drug dealer. Following a search of the man’s home, they seized a small quantity of controlled drugs together with £18,000 cash and £30,000 of designer clothing. They also found in excess of 400 FOBT pay-out receipts recording in excess of £36,000 cashed out from a bookmaker’s.

Despite the Gambling Commission describing FOBTs as a high money laundering risk, the government has excluded them from the 4th EU Money Laundering Directive (ML4), which would have required those betting more than £1500 a day to identify themselves. Let’s hope that by the time their inclusion in ML4 is reviewed in June, betting shops will be much lower risk, as FOBTs will be limited to £2 a spin and the casino content removed.