Ladbrokes Coral has stated it will reduce the £8m it spends each year on sponsoring sports if a “severe stake cut” on FOBTs is decided by the UK government, prompting a dismissive reaction from campaigners for a £2 maximum stake.
William Hill said it is also looking at making changes to its sponsorship deals, with the company appearing on Stephen Nolan’s BBC 5 Live show over the weekend.
In response to the two operators statements, Carolyn Harris, who chairs the FOBT all-party parliamentary group, fired back on Twitter.
“Really, more threats,” she said.
“You will survive Ladbrokes, which is more than those addicted to your dreadful machines are currently doing.”
Ladbrokes warned that “sports sponsorship is a two way street”, however, it stated that horse-racing sponsorship will continue due to its long-standing partnership.
“Horse racing is in the bookie DNA and some sponsorships and partnerships go back many years and have a history and association that make them very valuable and high on the list to continue,” the company said.
Ladbrokes currently invests £3.5m in sponsorships on horse-racing events and also sponsors Rugby Football League Challenge Cup and the Scottish Professional Football League as well as snooker and darts.
It was also one of the sponsors of the Football Association (FA) until the FA ended the sponsorship agreement in June last year.
William Hill added its warning stating that the company’s £1m sponsorship of horse racing will be at risk if the maximum stake on FOBTs is set too low, with director of communications Ciaran O’Brien appearing on BBC 5 Live to defend the machines.
It took all of five minutes for the bookmaker’s head of PR to attempt to muddy the waters as he made the comparison between FOBTs at a £2 maximum stake and 10p machines in a family entertainment centre.
“If you go down to £2, you’re really looking atalossrateperhourona machine of £10 per hour, you’d be bringing it at £2 to way below the loss rate even on a 10p slot in a family entertainment centre where children are allowed,” said O’Brien.
Broadcaster Nolan, however, pulled no punches in his response to O’Brien’s defence of FOBT’s.
“The cynic might say your industry has had an awful long time to get this right, and the reason the government’s having to kick in now is because you’ve continued to profit from problem gambling,” he stated.
Following O’Brien’s appearance, a number of ex-managers from betting shops featured on the show, raising a number of issues such as the conflict between having profit targets of FOBTs and needing to intervene in cases of problem gambling.
“We’re under pressure to hit those targets because that’s their biggest money margin,” said one commenter.
“Isn’t that a conflict of interest?” Nolan responded.
A conflict of conscience as well, which is probably more in line with the public and political view rather than the bookies themselves.
With the Triennial decision nudging ever closer, the bookies shift from warnings to threats is unlikely to win sufficient friends to stave off a £2 FOBT stake.