UK Gambling Machines Debate Clouded by Conflict of Interest Concerns

Debates over the future of the controversial fixed-odds betting terminals may be marred by conflicts of interest on the part of UK MPs who have been provided with different hospitality benefits from some of the nation’s largest bookmakers, the Guardian reported earlier today.

The popular news outlet cited a document that had leaked shortly before the Tuesday publication of the Government’s triennial gambling review. Conducted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the review recommended that the maximum FOBTs stake be reduced to between £50 and £2 from £100. A twelve-week consultation period was launched and during it, MPs will be provided with arguments supporting and opposing the looming crackdown on the gambling machines in order to be able to make well-informed decision about the re-regulation of that particular gaming sector.

The Guardian wrote that the leaked document contained questions to be raised before MPs in relation to the ongoing FOBTs debate. It appeared that some of the questions were promoting arguments that have often been used by lobbyists for bookmakers. Such questions and arguments presented betting shops featuring FOBTs as major employers and warned that a more severe crackdown would result in closures of a number of shops and people losing their jobs.

Reportedly, the leaked document has spurred fears that there may be MPs, particularly ones that have received hospitality from bookmakers, may push towards a softer approach towards the controversial gambling machines that have long been blasted for their addictive nature.

The BBC reported earlier this year that Ladbrokes Coral, which currently operates the largest number of FOBTs across the UK, has been the most frequent donor to MPs. Members of the UK Parliament are required to submit regular declarations of their donations by different business entities. According to information released to the press, Ladbrokes Coral made 15 donations worth a total of £7,500 to four MPs. The Government officials were treated with different hospitality donations, including trips to Ascot and Cheltenham and other popular horse races.

What Comes Next for UK’s FOBTs?

The publication of the triennial review of the Government is followed by a twelve-week consultation period that will determine by how much the maximum bet accepted by FOBTs will be reduced. The review presented options for a cut of between £50 and £2. Currently, players can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds.

There are over 34,000 machines across UK’s betting shops. The controversial devices comprise the largest retail betting sector of UK’s gambling industry with annual gross gambling yield of £1.8 billion. Although news about the pending crackdown was generally welcomed, campaigners have argued that MPs should consider other important elements that determine FOBTs’ addictive nature, including the speed of play. As mentioned above, players can fuel money into the machines every 20 seconds.

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