Ronnie Cowan MP: Ministers of Tracey Crouch’s calibre, commitment and honesty are thin on the ground
SNP MP Ronnie Cowan calls on former DCMS minister Tracey Crouch to join the APPG on FOBTs and use her knowledge to ensure it holds the government to account on this issue.
In a somewhat ironic, but ultimately sad, twist of fate the Minister responsible for gambling policy quit the UK Government yesterday at the start of Responsible Gambling Week. A week where the aim is to create a conversation with customers, staff and the wider public about gambling responsibly. Yet, the decision by HM Treasury to introduce the £2 maximum unit stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in October 2019 rather than April 2019 led to Tracey Crouch MP resigning her position and in doing so she highlighted that, “From the time of the announcement to reduce stakes and its implementation over £1.6bn will be lost on these machines”.
Research from Landman Economics has shown that the average FOBT user loses £192 a month. In comparison, the average user of machines already capped at £2 a spin losing just £22. In my constituency of Inverclyde the losses on these machines in 2015-16, according to figures from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, was £2.96m. These figures are startling and demonstrate the scale of the problem we face, and must address quickly, if we are to help save lives from gambling related harm.
The campaign to reduce the maximum unit stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) has been supported across party lines and through both Houses of Parliament. Led by the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FOBTs, Carolyn Harris MP, supported by Iain Duncan-Smith MP and myself, we’ve sought to bring those affected by gambling related harm to parliament to tell their stories of how these machines have ruined not only their lives but those of loved ones. Each one of these stories has been harrowing and sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend the suffering and sheer scale of the losses endured.
However, the bookmakers, alongside the Association of British Bookmakers, and politicians with registered interests have lobbied the UK Government and HM Treasury hard to fight the implementation. I believe this is a complete disservice to punters and reneges on any semblance of promoting responsible gambling while failing to address gambling related harm.
Gambling related harm is an issue which continues to receive more attention and it’s vital the UK Government listen to the many people who are highlighting how FOBTs are having a detrimental effect on society.
In any dealings I have had with Tracey Crouch she always been extremely helpful and has always struck me as a principled politician. Ministers of her calibre, commitment and honesty are thin on the ground. The UK Government is poorer for her loss and I hope she will now consider joining the APPG on FOBTs and use her knowledge to ensure we hold the UK Government to account on this issue. Going forward they must take meaningful action to address gambling related harm which is a growing blight throughout UK society.
Ronnie Cowan is the SNP MP for Inverclyde & Vice-chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals