The reduction of the maximum stake on FOBTS from £100 to £2 has finally been passed into law, presenting a welcome Christmas gift for the wider industry – but how long will the anti-gambling hangover last into the New Year?
On Tuesday 18 December the motion to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs was approved by the House of Lords, marking a legislative end to £100 stakes B3 machines.
While this occasion heralded an official end to the obstreperous FOBT debate, the reduction will not become a reality until April 2019, giving bookmakers another four months to plan their mitigation strategies.
Meanwhile, a number of anti-gambling politicians have foreshadowed their intent to keep the emotionally-charged drive against the wider gambling industry fully fuelled into next year – and even erstwhile sympathisers have turned critics. During that same Tuesday’s debate in the House of Lords, Lord Lipsey – a former ally to the bookies – pulled no punches in detailing the sector’s mishandling of the issue.
“This has been a complete shambles by the bookmakers,” he stated. “I spent some time trying to persuade them that they had to take a more flexible approach and find something acceptable to everyone by way of a stake – and I wasted many hours of my time talking to them because of their sheer greed.
“They should have woken up much earlier – instead of which they went on trying to make as much money as possible for as long as possible and have now found that instead of the half a loaf that they might have had,they have merely a shrivelled,dried-out crust in the shops.”
Of course, while Lipsey may have wasted hours,the amusements sector has spent years presenting this argument to no avail. In that time,the betting sector’s defence of their £100 stake machine has gathered an increasingly hostile horde of politicians outside the door of the entire industry,and while the high stakes are set to be dropped,there are no signs the pitchforks will follow suit.Instead,their focus appears to be switching to other products in other sectors,with some even using the debate on FOBTs to push for an entire review of the industry.
“So much is happening piece-meal across the whole range of gambling initiatives;we are tinkering with this here and that there, and perhaps now it is time for us to take
a generic look,”said Labour’s Lord Griffiths of Burry Port.“Perhaps this statutory instrument can be seen as a first blast in a bigger action that could lead to a better understanding and a far better set of regulations for our society at large.”
Indeed, Tom Watson has already pledged to bring in a new Gambling Act if the party ever manages to regain favour, with Brexit making this a realistically foreseeable possibility in 2019.
Elsewhere in Parliament,more specific inquiries came from Labour’s Preet Kaur Gill about links between scratchard play by children and problem gambling and whether the minimum age for purchase would be raised to 18, and Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith set the tone for 2019 by securing an oral debate on child gambling for 15 January.This will be followed by a debate the day after on whether gambling advertising should be banned, with politicians from all parties clearly keen to keep up the momentum gained in 2018.
“This has been a busy and bruising year in Parliament for both the gambling industry and for the government,” analyst DanWaugh from Regulus Partners argued.“There are signs that the industry is starting to get a better grip on matters (through concerted efforts to address harm and better inter-sector coordination) – but it will take time to repair the damage and, if any- thing, the year ahead looks even more challenging.”