The government will reduce the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 under new rules unveiled today.
The decision comes after months of argument between bookmakers and lawmakers. The change is likely to be introduced next year, and implemented in 2020.
The 98% reduction in the amount that can be wagered and lost is a victory for anti-gambling lobbyists, such as the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which have long claimed that FOBTs are highly addictive, calling them the “crack cocaine of gambling”.
Currently, gamblers can bet £100 every 20 seconds on electric casino games such as roulette, meaning that losses can add up to thousands in a single sitting. Gamblers lost £1.8 billion on Britain’s FOTBs in the year ending March 2017.
Critics claim that these machines disproportionally affect people in lower income areas, with sometimes devastating results.
Analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research claimed that roulette-style betting machines cost £116 million a year in hospital inpatient services, £32 million in mental health services and £16 million due to criminal behaviour.
But while these groups celebrate today’s news, bookmakers claim that it is a disaster. Many high-street betting shops rely on FOTB to make a profit, and the betting company Betfred today warned that 900 of its shops would become loss-making overnight once the restrictions are implemented.
Mark Stebbings, Betfred’s managing director, told the Home Affairs sub-committee that the new rules would force them to make 4,500 of their employees redundant.
Meanwhile, William Hill, another betting agency, warned that the regulations left them vulnerable to a takeover from a foreign company and could lead to the loss of 20,000 British jobs. Analysts at Barclays forecast that the changes would cause William Hill to lose £288 million in annual revenue.
The Treasury will also lose out, due to reduced tax revenues from FOTBs.
The Treasury and the Culture Department (who was pushing for the reduction) have apparently been engaged in debate over the issue for some time, and when reports finally emerged in April that the Treasury backed a cut of the maximum rate to £2, shares in bookmakers fell between 8% and 12%.
Matt Hanock, the UK’s Culture Secretary, said:
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When faced with the choice of halfway measures or doing everything we can to protect vulnerable people, we have chosen to take a stand.
These machines are a social blight and prey on some of the most vulnerable in society, and we are determined to put a stop to it and build a fairer society for all.