Betting companies may breathe a sigh of relief, but ministers could still enforce a £2 maximum stake.
In a shocking retreat, the Gambling Commission is to recommend reducing the maximum stake on FOBTs to “£30 or less”, backing away from previous threats of £2.
The decision, revealed in today’s Times, will bring some relief to bookmakers, who warned cutting stakes too low would lower government revenues from gambling and subsequently hurt funds to combat problem gambling.
The commission will instead suggest additional measures to reduce the risk of harm.
However, the watchdog has left open the option to ministers for a £2 maximum stake by saying that any limit the British government chooses below £30 would be consistent with its advice.
John White, Bacta CEO, reiterated his call for a reduction to £2, saying it was “badly needed to protect problem and at-risk gamblers, whose numbers are rising”.
“The government must now to do the right thing,” he added.
In October the government published its Triennial review on the gambling industry, which recommended stakes to be lower to £50 or less but stopped short of committing to a specific limit.
The commission will now argue that while the maximum stake should be reduced, there is not enough evidence to justify a specific figure below £30.
To combat problem gambling, it will recommend a ban on allowing FOBT players to switch between betting on high-stakes games every 20 seconds and lower-stakes “quickfire” games.
Additionally, it will call on betting shops to track customers’ habits and compile data to better identify players at risk.
The majority of industry leaders are likely to welcome the recommendations. Bookmakers are now expected to urge ministers to reach a compromise between £20 and £30 to prevent betting shop closures and job losses.
White, however, downplayed the negative impact should the government impose a £2 maximum stake.
“These are companies, and industries, that have adapted to innumerable changes, and which can adapt to the overdue demise of high-stakes FOBTs.”