UK’s New Culture Secretary Backs Massive Crackdown on FOBTs

Fixed-odds betting terminals will ultimately have their maximum stake cut to £2, The Sunday Times reported citing unnamed sources close to UK’s new Culture Secretary Matt Hancock.

Earlier this month, Mr. Hancock was promoted from his previous role of Minister of State for Digital to head up UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), thus replacing Karen Bradley. The Department had been tasked with conducting a review into the highly controversial gaming machines and decide how to curb issues related to these.

It published its review last October, stating that it would cut the maximum stake gambling customers could bet on FOBTs. The review was followed by the start of a 12-week consultation period, during which the Department collected information from all concerned parties in order to be able to make an adequate decision by how much it would slash the maximum stake.

Gambling opponents feared that the appointment of Mr. Hancock could result in a smaller-scale crackdown on FOBTs, due to his involvement in the horse racing industry. His West Suffolk seat in the House of Commons includes the Newmarket racecourse, and he was formerly trained as a jockey.

Sources close to the new Culture Secretary told The Sunday Times that his pro-horse racing attitude had nothing to do with his stance on gambling and on FOBTs, in particular. The source went on to say that Mr. Hancock’s attitude to the controversial machines was actually very negative and that he considered them “a social blight” that was taking money from “mature betting” options, including betting on horses.

Looming Crackdown on FOBTs

The DCMS’ 12-week consultation over the future of UK’s FOBTs gaming sector is set to end this Tuesday, when the Culture Department will likely confirm its decision to cut the maximum stake to £2 from £100.

According to sources, there has been “overwhelming response” to the issue, which has persuaded Ministers to undertake the significant reduction in the maximum amount gambling customers can stake on the machines. Currently, players can wager up to £100 every 20 seconds.

Gambling opponents have been voicing concerns about the addictive nature of the controversial gambling devices and have asked for actions to curb them for years. FOBTs, which can be found in practically every high street betting shop across the UK, have also been blasted for allegedly being used by criminals to launder black economy money.

However, it is believed that the significant reduction on the maximum stake will have a particularly negative effect on the retail businesses of the nation’s bookmakers. According to some reports, gambling companies could collectively lose around £650 million, if the stake is slashed to £2. Operators have also warned that the reduction could result in betting shop closures and thousands of people being left unemployed.

However, a recently published study on the impact of a massive cut on FOBTs pointed out that the expected impact on UK’s retail gambling sector could be exaggerated.

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