Maximum stake to be cut on 'crack cocaine' fixed-odds betting terminals

The high-stake, high-speed electronic casino games are said to be dangerously addictive
The high-stake, high-speed electronic casino games are said to be dangerously addictive
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The maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) - known as the crack cocaine of gambling - is to be cut from £100 to between £50 and £2.

The high-stake, high-speed electronic casino games are said to be dangerously addictive and currently allow a stake of up to £100 every 20 seconds, enabling a player to theoretically gamble away £18,000 an hour.

Bookmakers fear the plan, part of a package of measures announced in the Government's gambling review, will not work and will have a negative impact on the High Street, causing job losses and "ruining the lives of the thousands of employees".

But others believe it does not go far enough, describing it as "deeply disappointing" and raising concerns that the process is taking too long.

Culture minister Tracey Crouch said: "It is vital that we strike the right balance between socially-responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm."

Raising standards of player protection for online gambling, a responsible gambling campaign and new advertising guidelines are among a raft of suggestions designed to help minimise the risk to vulnerable people and children.

Strengthening the code on responsible gambling advertising and responsible gambling initiatives are also being considered.

A 12-week consultation is being launched on the proposals, which are aimed at reducing the potential for large losses on the machines.

Malcolm George, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, said the Government has "some intelligent ideas".

But he told BBC Breakfast: "They've looked at the evidence that was submitted last year, and they haven't come down with a firm view because actually the evidence around cutting stake doesn't necessarily suggest you're going to help problem gamblers.

"The risk for the industry as a whole is that you simply move a problem gambler from one environment into another, into an amusement arcade, into a casino, into online.

"And that mightn't be the best policy outcome."

Mr George said "losing 12,000 jobs" is "a very high price to pay" for a measure he said might not work and which may drive gamblers "underground into the hands of money lenders".

He added: "Just cutting stake to £2, ruining the lives of the thousands of employees who will lose their jobs, ruining the high street and the attraction betting shops provide, when it won't actually be a benefit to a problem gambler, that simply doesn't make sense."

But shadow culture secretary and Labour deputy leader Tom Watson described the Government's announcement as "deeply disappointing".

He added: "Ministers have squandered a real opportunity to curb highly addictive fixed-odds betting terminals which can cause real harm to individuals, their families and local communities.

"After months of delays they've simply decided to have another consultation.

"And instead of taking firm measures on the proliferation of gambling advertising, on TV and online, the Government have again been found wanting."

The Government has also asked the Gambling Commission for more information about how better tracking and monitoring of play on FOBTs might be used to protect players.

They have also asked to see if the spin speed on games such as roulette should be looked at.

The Gambling Commission is to look at changes to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice next year, aimed at strengthening player protection online.

It is to set out expectations for the industry for customer interaction online.

An annual budget of £5 million to £7 million has been earmarked for a two-year advertising campaign backed by GambleAware, Advertising Association, broadcasters and gambling industry groups.

It will include TV adverts, including around live sport, as well as radio, cinema, online and print.

It is to be funded by gambling operators, including online-only betting firms, with airspace and digital media provided by broadcasters.

In an effort to protect children and young people, new advertising guidelines are to be drawn up by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) to see that adverts do not encourage impulsive or socially irresponsible gambling.

The Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) is to tighten the code on responsible gambling advertising so that operators ensure that gambling channels cannot be accessed by those under 18 via social media.

A call is also being made for gambling operators to step up funding for research, education and treatment, or the Government will consider other options, including introducing a mandatory levy on them.

The Government is recommending maintaining current stakes on other gaming machines, apart from on prize bingo gaming, where the industry has already proposed an increase from £1 to £2 and prizes from £70 to £100.

Ms Crouch believes the stake reduction could help limit the potential for large session losses along with the potential harmful impact on the player and their wider communities.

The Government will consider its final proposals after the consultation ends on January 23.