FOBT restrictions are '˜an important step' in protecting gamblers
The maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will be restricted to Â£2, the government has announced.
According to the government, the move will cut the risk of potentially large financial losses from the controversial machines as well as harm to both players and wider communities.
The decision goes further than the recommendations of a review carried out by the gambling regulator earlier this year, which recommended the maximum stake for FOBTs should be set at or below £30.
In July last year, The News joined forces with Portsmouth City Council to impose a restriction on FOBTs.
Culture secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘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.’
But Peter Higgins from The Betting Room in Portsmouth says that although a restriction was needed, the severity of it could force many high street bookmakers out of business.
He said: ‘We used to have four FOBTs in our store, which was the maximum you were allowed.
‘I didn’t see people pouring their money away, but there is evidence out there to suggest that there was a problem.
‘The thing is that a reduction to £30 a spin would have been enough – slashing it to £2 is a bit excessive.
‘I think an important step is also to increase the time between spins, and to restrict the advertising that comes through on the TV and so on.
‘To me, the £2 restriction is more of a socio-political message than anything else.’
Peter says that the high street bookies will be under threat – and is expecting to see ‘significant’ losses.
He said: ‘FOBTs make up a huge part of a betting shop’s revenue, so I think we’ll see a lot of people in Portsmouth losing their jobs.
‘I have not qualms about the stakes being reduced but this could lead to a lot of empty units on the high street.’
Leader of Portsmouth City Council Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has welcomed the announcement from the government.
He said: ‘I think it is really good news.
‘People can lose £100 a spin, every 20 seconds, and keep chucking money at it.
‘It pushes people into debt and destroys their lives, so the government needs to protect them.
‘I am really pleased by the news – it should have happened years ago.
‘There will be people in Portsmouth whose lives won’t be wrecked by FOBTs.’
Christopher Snowden, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says that the news will cost thousands of jobs as bookmakers across the country close down.
He said: ‘Today’s announcement shows that you can get anything banned in this country if you whine for long enough.
‘Make no mistake, reducing the stake to £2 amounts to a ban.
‘The machines will be taken out of bookmakers and players will move online where there are no limits on stakes or prizes.
‘Hundreds of bookmakers will close, thousands of jobs will be lost and the horse-racing industry will lose millions of pounds in subsidies.
‘Taxpayers will then have to fork out £400 million to fill the gap in the treasury’s balance sheet. ‘
But Cllr Vernon-Jackson believes that the bookmakers will be safe, regardless of the changes.
He said: ‘I know for some bookmakers it will cause trouble but these are hugely addictive machines.
‘There is a possibility that this could happen but I doubt it will.
‘When the hunting ban came in there were similar fears and none of that ever happened.’
Leader of Fareham Borough Council Cllr Sean Woodward has campaigned for a maximum £2 stake for many years.
He said: ‘I am delighted by the news.
‘This campaign has been ongoing for many years now so I am glad to see this – it won’t stop gambling but should stop some of the more devastating affects.
‘I am very pleased indeed but I am not going to let up until the restriction is officially implemented.
‘What’s more, as FOBTs are a relatively recent appearance on the gambling scene, to suggest this will lead to gambling stores closing is nonsense.
‘What is important is that we are able to do something for people who are a victim of the gambling system.
‘There shouldn’t be any tears shed over this.’
William Hill, which makes more than half of its retail revenues from FOBTs, said the ‘unprecedented’ decision could see around 900 of its betting shops become loss-making, with a proportion at risk of closure after the new £2 limit comes into force.
Chief executive Philip Bowcock said: ‘The government has handed us a tough challenge today and it will take some time for the full impact to be understood, for our business, the wider high street and key partners like horse racing.
‘We will continue to evolve our retail business in order to adapt to this change and we will support our colleagues as best we can.’
Peter Higgins believes that people will continue to gamble away hundreds of pounds – just through other methods.
He said: ‘People who want to fill their gambling boots will simply go elsewhere for their fix.
‘They will find other means by going online or betting on something else.
‘When it comes to online gambling you can bet 24 hours a day and the only restriction is yourself, so it is a much more dangerous place to gamble.
‘Because the option is there for these people to go elsewhere, I really don’t think slashing the stakes like this will have the desired impact.
‘It’s a shame, because there is certainly a need to tackle gambling problems, but we also need more money for support groups and some advertising restrictions to really tip the balance.’
For more information on the dangers of gambling, and to get help, people can go to gambleaware.org.