Crackdown on FOBTs Looms as UK Chancellor Philip Hammond Drops Opposition

Fixed-odds betting terminals will certainly be subjected to a crackdown by the UK Government, after Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond withdrew his opposition to the proposed limitations on the maximum stake accepted by the machines, The Times reported.

A triennial review of the nation’s gambling industry was due this spring, but the snap election and the havoc it wreaked among British policymakers delayed its publication. It is now believed that the results from the government’s survey are to be released in October.

FOBTs or B2 gaming machines first appeared in betting shops around the UK in the early 2000s. They quickly gained popularity among gambling customers and opposition from responsible gambling campaigners due to their appeal and potential addictiveness.

A clampdown on the controversial gaming machines has been under consideration for several years now, but it was not before last fall when Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Heritage Tracey Crouch announced on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) that the latest gambling review would be particularly focused on FOBTs and the potential introduction of certain curbs on the way the devices are operated in betting shops around the nation.

Proposals have emerged from the DCMS and other related parties that the maximum stakes accepted by FOBTs should be reduced to just £2 from £100. According to media reports from earlier this year, the UK Treasury, led by Chancellor Hammond, had contested such a major clampdown on the controversial machines due to fears that it could reduce gambling taxes paid by UK bookmakers by £400 million.

The Treasury’s Minister responsible wrote in a recent letter to the Bishop of St Albans, who is known for his severe criticism of the gaming machines, that he himself and his department were fully supportive of the DCSM’s work to provide UK gambling customers as well as those employed in the sector with a safe environment. It was that particular letter, which was obtained by The Observer, that was considered the main indicator that the Treasury is no longer hampering the long-lobbied-for crackdown or is at least ready to a certain level of compromise.

Facts and Figures about FOBTs

FOBTs have been the object of severe criticism since their first appearance in betting shops around the UK. Their addictive nature has stirred bitter controversy between involved parties. Despite being highly contested, it should be admitted that they have never stopped gaining popularity among customers and producing benefits for bookmakers with retail presence around the UK.

Gross gambling yield from the machines has increased from £1.051 billion in the April 2008-March 2009 reporting period to £1.8 billion in the October 2015-September 2016 reporting period. In addition, their average number has grown from 31,484 in April 2008-March 2009 to 34,388 in October 2015-September 2016. There was an average of 8,788 betting shops across the UK in the period between October 2015 and September 2016.

A recent report by the UK Gambling Commission showed FOBTs are particularly attractive to unemployed adults. Here it is also important to note that British bookmakers have also been broadly scolded for concentrating a greater number of betting shops in deprived areas or areas characterized by high unemployment rates.

A report released in the UK Parliament in early 2014 showed that there were 2,691 betting shops based in some of UK’s poorest areas in 2013, with those being located in the nation’s northern cities as well as in urban London. The amount of £13 billion was gambled on the controversial betting machines in those same betting shops during the reviewed 12 months and £470 million was lost by gambling customers.

In comparison, there were 1,258 betting shops in the nation’s richest areas and the amount of £6.5 billion was staked on FOBTs located in those. Customers lost £231 million during the 12 months ended December 2013.

GamCare, an organization devoted to helping people with problem gambling behavior with information, free counseling, advice, or anything else they might need, revealed in its 2015/2016 annual activity report that 23% of their callers staked money on FOBTs during the reported period. GamCare answered 46,851 calls during the reviewed twelve months, of which 28,231 were from people with gambling addiction or affected others.

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