FOBT Report in Breach of UK Parliamentary Standards, Says Watchdog

Posted on: May 5, 2017, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: May 5, 2017, 10:36h.

Bookmakers in the UK have been vindicated this week by a government watchdog’s criticism of a report calling for a slash on the maximum stakes of fixed-odds betting terminals.

Malcolm George’s ABB vindicated by watchdog
Malcolm George, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, said this week that the report had been exposed as a “shambolic one-sided piece of work.” (Image: AP)

The report, prepared by a cross-party group of politicians as part of a wider government regulatory review into the controversial machines, recommended cutting the max stakes from £100 ($125) to £2 ($2.50). It’s a move the bookmakers say would result in 20,000 job losses and force half of all bookmaking shops to close.

Land-based bookmakers now derive some 50 percent of their overall profits from the 35,000-odd machines installed in betting shops up and down the country.

But opponents say they have contributed to an increase in problem gambling, crime and social problems. The bookmakers counter that there is no evidence of this.          

The Association of British Bookmakers snubbed the cross-party group when it was asked to take part in discussions, dismissing it as a “kangaroo court” and a “club of anti-betting shop MPs, funded by amusement arcades and casinos with commercial interest in attacking betting shops.”

Violation of Transparency Rules

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Except that the parliamentary watchdog agrees with the ABB, to a degree, at least. The watchdog found that the report had beached parliamentary standards four times.   

It says the group, chaired by Labour MP Carolyn Harris, failed to disclose attendance at its meetings, despite the fact that the group was backed by direct rivals of bookmakers, including casinos and the amusement arcade trade body Bacta.

Moreover, it failed to take proper minutes and neglected to print a disclaimer making it clear that its report was not an official government publication.

It also failed to disclose it had receive input from public affairs company Interel, which also works for rivals, and neglected to mention on the front of the report that Interel was a donor.

“Serial Offenders”

The watchdog added that the violations were at the “lesser end of the spectrum” and that there had been “no deliberate attempt to mislead.” Because Harris had acknowledged the group’s failings, taken steps to rectify them, and apologized, the matter was now considered closed, it said.   

Nevertheless, Malcolm George, the chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, seized his opportunity.

“This group of MPs are now revealed as serial offenders for their misleading report about gaming machines in betting shops,” he said. “The MPs’ report has been exposed as a shambolic, shoddy and one-sided piece of work that has broken a long list of parliamentary rules.”