UK bookmakers and the Treasury are being heavily criticized by government after the two parties struck a deal late last week to delay the implementation of the reduced max bet on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson called the government “fundamentally weak” after learning bookmakers successfully lobbied Treasury to wait until 2020 to mandate that the max bet permitted on machines be slashed from £100 ($131) to £2 ($2.63).
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) concluded last month after its more than year-long review that FOBT maximum bets should be reduced to £2.
DCMS Secretary Matthew Hancock said the highly addictive betting machines are “a very serious blight” that “needs to be tackled.”
Somehow Treasury has given the bookies a longer transition period than it’ll take the government to negotiate Brexit,” anti-FOBT group Fairer Gambling said in a release.
“Unbelievably, Treasury thinks it takes two years for the bookmakers to run a software update on their server-based FOBTs to remove games they should never have been allowed in the first place,” Fairer Gambling continued. “The delay will mean hundreds of thousands more people experiencing harm before the gambling addiction gateway of high speed, high stakes roulette is removed.”
UK bookmakers have threatened lawmakers about the consequences of slashing the max bet. Companies like William Hill and Ladbrokes said 4,000 betting shops could close, and as many as 21,000 people would lose their jobs.
“This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for betting shops on the high street,” the Association of British Bookmakers said. “The independent expert advice warned that this would simply shift people, the majority of whom gamble responsibly, to alternative forms of gambling.”
FOBTs generate more than $2.3 billion in annual revenue for the betting shops, and roughly $525 million for the UK government.
To offset expected revenue losses, Treasury has announced a tax increase on online gambling that will now likely take place before the FOBT betting reduction.
The regulatory changes were unlikely to take effect until 2019, as the betting reduction requires parliamentary approval. But now bookmakers are assured they’ll enjoy at least two more years offering terminals that accept £100 bets every 20 seconds.
The UK Gambling Commission estimates that 14 percent of those who play FOBTs are problem gamblers. The gaming regulatory additionally reports that each FOBT nets nearly $70,000 a year for the betting shops.
A spokesperson close to the bookmakers and Treasury deal told the Guardian the delay is to make sure the new rules are rolled out in the best manner possible.
“We are changing the rules so they balance the needs of vulnerable people, those who gamble responsibly, and people who work in this sector. But we must get this right, and are engaging with the industry to ensure it has sufficient time to implement these technological changes,” the anonymous person stated.