AGC operators look forward to a levelled playing field

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Speaking to Coinslot, Kevin Birch, director of Players Amusements, and Ray Stewart, owner of CC Leisure, explain what £2 maximum stake cut on FOBTs means for AGC operators after over a decade of competing against the high stake terminal.

Operators on Britain’s high streets have welcomed the DCMS’ decision to cut maximum stakes on FOBTs from £100 to £2, stating “we now have a levelled playing field”.

Owner of Players Amusements Kevin Birch believes the result returns a competitive edge to the high street gaming that has been missing for some time.

“For us AGC operators it’s got to be good news,” he explained. “It’s what everyone has been saying for a long time; there should be a level playing field. We know as AGC operators we’ve lost customers to LBOs, and I think this change needed to happen. That’s not only from anAGC operator point of view, but from a point of view of the whole gambling industry. It’s certainly not doing us any favours in the press with the sort of stakes that can played on the FOBTs on the high street, it’s not the right product for that environment. There has always been people who claim we say that because we don’t have B2s, but to be honest with the type of operation we’ve got, I wouldn’t want them in an AGC. Even if it was offered, I think we would have stayed away from it as long as we could, because it creates the wrong atmosphere. We want to keep our existing customers happy, and to have B2s it would change the whole business – I’m glad we’ve never had them.”

Ray Stewart, operator of CC Leisure, agrees with Birch’s assessment on B2s, and hopes the industry can move forward together now £100 maximum stakes are out the picture.

“I think the stake cut to £2 is the correct thing to do,” he said,“ it addresses a lot of the concerns that have been expressed over the years, and it also reduces everything back to a level playing field between the rest of the high street gambling sector and the betting shops, which I think has got to be a positive thing. The reason I say that is; betting shops, bingo halls and AGCs – all of them can now work together going forward in a way that advances them collectively, rather than the dis- parity that existed between us because one select group had a significant advantage over everybody else. It created conflict in the industry when we should be working together in the common interest.”

Stewart believes there is much to be done on that front due to the reputational damage from FOBTs, however once their stake is cut, he predicts that a change in atmosphere in betting shops will heal the wounds of what has otherwise been a very well regulated industry.

“I’m hoping by having the stake capped at £2 on FOBTs that bookmakers will look more at B3 content, and my personal view is that they’ll still do quite well,” he concluded.“ I think players will migrate across.

There is going to be an improved environment within the betting shops now, because you’re not going to get people who are aggressive, who get upset, who smash machines, and hopefully most if not all of that behaviour will be eliminated. We’ve all read the anecdotal evidence,betting managers say the atmosphere changed when the machines came in – they used to know their customers – but for the last 10 years they’ve had people coming in just to play these very aggressive machines, and I’ll be glad to see the back of them.”

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