It took sport and civil society minister Tracey Crouch little over 12 hours to dismiss reports that Philip Hammond, chancellor of the exchequer, was attempting to “shelve” a review of FOBT maximum stakes.
Last Saturday DCMS minister Tracey Crouch tweeted “fake news” to a report the day previous that the chancellor of the exchequer had blocked efforts to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs.
The Daily Mail published the story referenced by Crouch late on Friday, stating that the Treasury opposes a cut to £2 due to the potential loss in tax revenue. The report cited a Whitehall source that said the Treasury fears cutting the stake to £2 would be ‘financially crippling’. While the body of the Daily Mail article stated the Treasury was opposed to a “drastic cut”, the headline suggests the a review of the maximum stake could be “scrapped” entirely. Clearing this up, the DCMS said in a statement on Saturday that its review into stakes and prizes was still underway, and it expected to publish its conclusions in the autumn.
Crouch also responded on Twitter before heading to the athletics in London, although the sports minister gave no further details beyond the two-word tweet. The DUP, however, responded more comprehensively, with their £1bn majority-forming alliance adding weight to MP Jim Shannon’s statement that the party will “continue to ask for restrictions on the stakes for these machines” and that the maximum stake “should be £2, or £5 at the most”.
Politicians in Scotland joined Shannon in equal vigour, although some control over betting shops was devolved to Holyrood last year.
“As part of the new powers of the Scottish Parliament, the SNP must press ahead with a policy of cracking down on the spread of these machines,” said Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley. “They are not the same as a weekly football coupon or a lottery ticket – people can lose hundreds of pounds in a matter of minutes – and they are invariably more prevalent in the poorest areas.”
Despite the Scottish Government having the power to prevent the clustering of betting shops, a spokeswoman said that gambling powers remain largely reserved to Westminster, and that Holyrood is awaiting the outcome of the review before it considers how best to use its devolved powers.
“The SNP supported this review when it was announced last year – and reports that it is being abandoned because the FOBTs make money for the Treasury are deeply concerning,” added SNP MSP Stuart McMillan. “Last year, Scottish councils got the power to limit the clustering of betting shops in our communities – and it is imperative the UK Government take similar action.”
The Daily Mail said the machines brought in more than 400 million pounds a year in tax revenues, however Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), advised The Treasury to also look at the cost of FOBTs.
“It is morally bankrupt to allow this situation to go on because of a misunderstanding of the economics of FOBTs,” she said. “Britain will be financially better off if we take action on these machines.”