As the polling booths for voting in the General Election open, the Gaming Industry will be looking on with added interest as the on-going issue of fixed odds betting terminals continues to divide opinion amongst the main political parties.
Whilst the bookies have installed Theresa May as the firm favourite to be the next Prime Minister (Nigel Farage offers rather better value at 1000/1…), the uncertainty over the future of FOBTs continues.
Triennial review and parliamentary inquiry
In October 2016, the minister with responsibility for Gambling, Tracey Crouch, made a call for evidence on the review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures, to include, amongst other things, stakes and prize limits on machines, the number of machines available in the United Kingdom and more specifically that "the review (takes) a close look at the issue of B2 gaming machines (more commonly known as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - FOBTs) and specific concerns about the harm they cause, be that to the player or the communities in which they are located."
In January 2017, the rather grandly titled "FOBT All Parliamentary Group" published their Report "Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – Assessing the Impact".
All parliamentary group are informal group of members of both houses with a common interest in particular issues and the report is not an official publication of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.
Whilst the report was heavily criticised by the industry as being "deeply flawed" having been funded by commercial rivals of Britain's bookmakers it made a number of recommendations amongst which were:
- That there was now a ‘prima facie’ case for significantly reducing the maximum stake that can be wagered on a FOBT
- That there is a case for the maximum stake to be reduced to £2
- The Government should also consider reducing the speed of spin on a FOBT in order to reduce the potential for harm to be caused and also review the number of FOBTs permitted in an individual bookmaker
- Government should address localism concerns and calls for greater controls over FOBTs at the local level. Powers should be given to local authorities to prevent the clustering of betting shops.
It had been widely thought that the outcomes of the Governments review announced by Tracey Crouch back in October 2016 would be announced in the Spring of 2017. That was of course before the announcement of the General Election, which put paid to any resolution of the issue.
It is now anticipated that the outcomes of the review will be announced in October of this year
The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have taken a widely consistent position on this issue.
The Labour Party has indicated that they will reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2. Labour will also legislate to increase the delay in between spins on these games in order to reduce the addictive nature of the games.
The Liberal Democrats have committed to grant new powers to local authorities to protect high streets and consumers, by reducing the proliferation of betting shops and capping the maximum amount able to be bet on FOBTs at one time to £2.
The reduction in the stake to £2 is also supported by UKIP whilst the SNP has called for "the Scottish Government to have legislative powers to control the growth and impact of (FOBTs)."
The Conservative Party manifesto contains no reference to their proposals in relation to FOBTs should they form the next Government, albeit that senior Tories are reported in the press as saying that they should support the call to reduce the stakes to £2.
Whilst there are clearly much more pressing issues for any future Government to attend to immediately post the general election, it seems clear that the on-going battle around FOBTs may now be entering its final furlong. Restrictions, whether that be by way of a change in stakes and prizes, a delay in machine play or a restriction on the number of machines in any given betting office premise, now seem likely.
When the Gambling Act 2005 was introduced 10 years ago, in September 2007, the initial issues were around the introduction of the 2005 Act casinos, and the availability of gaming machines, with arcades, bingo clubs and betting offices seeking to "split" their premises in order to increase their machine allotment.
Whilst most the 2005 Act casinos have now been awarded it would appear that the second decade of debate around the Gambling Act 2005 will start where the first one began – with machines.