Casino boss slams “problem” FOBTs

Casino boss slams “problem” FOBTs

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 Totally Gaming
Simon Thomas said he "admires" Scotland for its inquiry into FOBTs

The owner of London’s largest casino wants the UK to follow Scotland’s lead in investigating the further restriction of fixed-odds betting machines (FOBTs).

In evidence given to the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into FOBTs, Hippodrome Casino’s Simon Thomas compared the defence of FOBTs by many within the gambling sector to the tobacco industry’s long-term denial of a link between smoking and lung cancer.

Thomas said that the proliferation of FOBTS had made the UK “out of kilter” with gambling in the rest of the world, claiming that “easily available high-street sites” were not the correct place for “£100-a-go roulette machines.”

“Before bookmakers had FOBTs, they were very nice and fairly benign places where people would, say, put a fiver on the horses,” said Thomas. “Now 97 per cent of police call-outs to gambling premises are to betting shops, where thousands of machines are smashed up every year by irate gamblers who have lost control.

“They are, without question, a problem. I admire Scotland for taking a stance on them, and I hope that the rest of the UK will follow.”

Thomas was speaking at a round-table discussion organised by the inquiry committee in Edinburgh, along with representatives from The Bingo Association, Scotbet and William Hill, as well as delegates from Scottish local councils and the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

Andrew Lynam, William Hill's director of public policy, said: “We think that if Scotland is to fashion a sensible harm-reduction policy on problem gambling, it must not concentrate on a single product in a single sector. Instead, it needs to take a co-ordinated view on all gambling products.”

The remit of the inquiry, which is to report in December, is to consider the level of control of FOBTs as proposed in The Scotland Bill 2015. Currently betting, gaming and lotteries are all matters reserved to Westminster. However, clause 49 of The Scotland Bill proposes devolving legislative competence in relation to gaming machines authorised by a betting premises licence where the maximum charge for a single play is more than £10.

The Gambling Act 2005 would be amended so the Scottish Ministers would be able to vary the number of machines allowed on betting premises. 

The inquiry committee is chaired by MSP Kevin Stewart, who this week wrote to Chair of the Review of the Scottish Planning System to highlight members’ concerns about local authorities being unable to use the planning system to prevent betting shops opening in some shop premises.

Stewart said: “Over the course of our evidence taking, the question of the ‘over-provision’, or clustering, of betting shops has been discussed extensively. It has been suggested that these betting machines are highly addictive and that the number of betting shops have proliferated, or clustered, in some areas as the betting industry has sought to maximise revenue from the communities most likely to play these machines.

“It has been suggested that retail betting shops should be placed in a distinct planning class so that planning permission must be sought when a betting company takes on new premises in order to open a retail betting shop, regardless of what those shop premises were used for previously.”

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