Minister for sport quits over FOBT stake date

Tracey Crouch MP resigns FOBT Stake
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Sports minister Tracey Crouch has resigned her post – amid claims that the “registered interests” of the bookies hold sway over the government’s lagging implementation of reduced betting terminal stakes.

 

In a dramatic move which has placed the FOBT issue at the centre-stage of British politics once again, UK sports minister Tracey Crouch has resigned in protest over what she termed was the government’s “unjustifiable” delay in implementing the proposed £2 maximum stake for betting terminals.

It was Crouch who launched the review which ultimately saw the government rule in favour of a significant reduction in maximum B2 stakes – from £100 to £2 – earlier this year. But there has been apparent confusion within the Conservative party as to just how and when the new restriction will come into play – with several leading MPs insisting that initial indications suggested it would go into force next April as part of the chancellor’s Budget 2019.

But in her letter of resignation to the prime minister last Thursday, Crouch outlined that the conspicuous absence of the stake change from the latest finance bill now placed her at clear odds with the government’s position.

“Implementation of these changes are now being delayed until October 2019 due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests,” she wrote. “There is no reason why implementation cannot come in sooner than October.”

Crouch may well have opted for veiled language and misleading sentiments too over the notion of a delay. But the shadow DCMS minister Tom Watson was in no mood for diplomacy. The man behind the labour party’s gambling policy review – which is no friend to the UK gaming industry from either the soft or hard wing of the spectrum – directly implicated newly incumbent DCMS secretary Jeremy Wright as squarely responsible for the delay.

“Tracey Crouch has taken a courageous and principled decision to resign from the government over Jeremy Wright’s decision to delay cutting the maximum stake on FOBTs,” he said. “The new secretary of state has threatened all this good work…he has prioritised corporate interests over victims, profits over public health and greed over good. He should be thoroughly ashamed.”

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Wright maintained that both Crouch and Watson were arguing from a false premise: that the stakechange had not been pushed back, but had actually been brought forward from a prospective introduction in April 2020 – and argued that both the gambling industry and the treasury required sufficient time to prepare for anticipated revenue losses.

It was a sentiment echoed by the prime minister, who expressed “disappointment” at her minister’s resignation, but nevertheless insisted that there had been “no delay in bringing forward this important measure.”

Crouch is by no means the first prominent Tory to oppose unnecessary delays to curbing the notorious betting terminals. Former party-leader Ian Duncan Smith is thought to be one of around 35 Tory rebels said to be willing to put their names to an amendment of the treasury’s finance bill, which would pass the new stakes into law as of April 1 – a move which could cost the bookies upwards of £900m in additional income.


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