As the Crime and Policing Bill passes through the House of Lords, it seems that more than one canny politician is using the opportunity to introduce amendments that would limit the effects of FOBTs.
The government’s Crime and Policing Bill has become an unlikely battleground for gambling legislation. With the status of an amendment that would allow councils to impose much more stringent licensing conditions still in the balance, another alteration with ramifications for the gambling industry has been floated.
The amendment was tabled by Lord Beecham, a Labour peer who is, among other things, the shadow spokesperson for communities and local government. He is seeking to introduce a law which requires businesses to have at least two members of staff on the premises at all times where gaming machines are being offered.
Although, as with the previously suggested amendment, this would also apply to AGCs, bingo halls and FECs, it is clearly targeted at betting shops. “Fixed-odds betting terminals…are a source of large profits and social and economic damage,” said Lord Beecham. “The 35,000 machines to be found in betting premises are concentrated in poorer areas of the country, where they divert money from the local economy and are the scene of 40 percent of all serious crimes against businesses. As I pointed out in Committee, police callouts to attend incidents at these premises increased by 51 percent in 2014 from the previous year.”
The Labour politician’s amendment is based on limiting the social and criminal disturbances which have become associated with FOBTs, but he demonstrated a familiarity with the wider concerns coin-op industry by referencing Bacta’s triennial submission.
Even if licensing authorities could impose conditions on the use of gaming machines, there would be limited opportunities to do so in practice.
“Bacta, the body representing the manufacturers, suppliers and operators of 310,000 amusement machines —not those in betting offices or casinos—has come up with 12 proposals, which it is submitting to the consultation being undertaken by DCMS, said Lord Beecham. “Interestingly, these include a new machine with a maximum stake of £10 instead of the current permitted stake of £50; a suggested jackpot limit of £125; and a high-percentage payout of 90 percent on the money staked, bringing the industry closer to the concept of amusement arcades rather than high-risk and expensive gambling.”
The man behind the previously proposed licensing amendment, the Bishop of Bristol, spoke out in support of Lord Beecham’s suggestion, making an interesting note about the potential potency of his own law-making endeavour: “This amendment is, of course, limited in scope. Even if licensing authorities could impose conditions on the use of gaming machines, there would be limited opportunities to do so in practice. The ‘aim to permit’ licensing framework of the Gambling Act 2005 is so heavily skewed in favour of the betting industry that licensing authorities have great difficulty imposing any conditions whatever on betting premises, the threat of judicial review deterring all but the boldest local authorities.”
Beecham’s amendment was later withdrawn from contention, but with the Crime and Policing Bill currently in the report stage, and with discussions expected to continue this week, the Bishop of Bristol’s Amendment 214A remains in play.