I am delighted that after years of campaigning, together with colleagues from across the House and local campaigners, that the Government has made the decision to significantly reduce the maximum stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2, reducing the risk of gambling-related harm. I met with the former Chief Whip in October with a number of fellow Conservatives who shared my concerns and momentum has continued to build in the meantime.
As such I welcome today’s announcement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport following a lengthy and thorough consultation with the industry and the wider public. The reduction of the stake limit to £2 reduces the potential for an individual to rapidly incur substantial losses; protecting players and the wider community.
I have spoken in a Westminster Hall debate on this subject in recent years. My concerns primarily rested on the aggressive form of gambling that FOBTs engendered, with the short cycle of play encouraging repeated bets and further subsequent visits to high-street shops, of which there are many within the relatively small confines of the constituency. I remember being shown how £40 could disappear within thirty seconds on one of these machines and it does not take a leap of imagination to see how someone could lose hundreds or even thousands of pounds incredibly quickly.
Given that shops are limited to only four terminals per site, the way to make more from the FOBT money spinner is to open additional branches. As such betting shops have proliferated, particularly in the Chinatown area. Local authorities are hamstrung by the “aim to permit” guidance under which they review premises’ licence applications for betting shops.
Local amenity societies such as the Soho Society and the London Chinatown Chinese Association were understandably alarmed by the exponential growth of shops and the accompanying terminals. This was also combined with concerns about the push from operators to increase opening hours to allow them to target the night-time economy, particularly members of the Chinatown community, who work until the early hours in the area’s busy restaurant scene. Many of these people are vulnerable to becoming problem gamblers.
Today’s announcement makes significant progress on protecting those at risk and promoting a responsible gambling industry. The reduction to a maximum stake of £2 is a positive step to targeting the greatest proportion of problem gamblers, and mitigating risk for the most vulnerable players for whom even modest losses might be harmful.