UK’s Labour party is throwing heavy criticism at the government for being “fundamentally weak” after reports emerged Friday that MPs and British bookmakers have agreed to delay the crackdown on the highly controversial fixed-odds betting terminals to 2020.
The government confirmed last month that the maximum stake on FOBTs would be reduced to just £2 from £100, following years of lobbying against the gaming devices, dubbed as the “crack cocaine of gambling”, and growing concerns about the impact they had on society due to their addictiveness.
The crackdown on the controversial machines was expected to take effect sometime next year so that the industry has enough time to make the necessary preparations and adjustments across the sector. However, The Times reported on Friday that the government might have bowed to pressure from the industry and have agreed to delay the roll-out of the measure to 2020. Reports about the potential agreement between MPs and British bookmakers, who reap nearly half of their annual gross gambling yield from FOBTs, are yet to be confirmed but they have already caused quite a stir, with campaigners and anti-gambling MPs blasting the government for showing fundamental weakness.
The Labour party’s deputy leader Tom Watson told media yesterday that the government’s capitulation to a two-year delay of the FOBTs clampdown represented a “pathetic move” from a “fundamentally weak government.” The politician went on to say that MPs have let down badly everyone who had praised their decision to slash the maximum stake on the controversial machines.
It was estimated that bookmakers will collect nearly £4 billion in gross gambling yield in the next two years as a result from the reported delay, based on the average annual of £1.8 billion FOBT generate.
Another Labour MP and an active lobbyist for a FOBT crackdown, Carolyn Harris, said yesterday that she was “breathing fire” about the newly emerged reports.
A spokesperson for the government said that there will be a clampdown on the machines but that they want to do it the right way and that this requires time. While the maximum stake cut was not expected to take effect until next year, The Guardian wrote yesterday, citing unnamed sources from the FOBT manufacturing industry, that it would take just between six to eight weeks for the necessary adjustments to the gaming machines’ software to be made.
A spokesperson for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, one of the main lobbying groups for a cut of the maximum stake on FOBTs, said that the reported delay would expose hundreds of thousands more people to the harm of the £100 maximum stake.
The reduction of the maximum stake would not only hit the gambling industry itself but would also slash tax contributions to the Treasury. It has been confirmed that the tax loss from the FOBT crackdown would be offset through the introduction of a higher tax on online gambling. It has also become known that the new Internet gaming duty would be rolled out before the FOBT clampdown so that the Treasury secures a net uplift in tax collections.