English councils petition for reduction in FOBT stakes

English councils petition for reduction in FOBT stakes

Friday, November 28, 2014

A group of 93 local councils in England has launched a petition for the UK Government to slash the minimum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 (€126/$157) to just £2.

Led by Newham Council in East London, the group has put forward a Sustainable Communities Act (SCA) proposal that calls on the government to end “casino-style gambling” on high streets across England.

The SCA became law in 2007 and created a new process of governance under which councils can drive central government action and policy to help such councils promote the “sustainability of local communities”. The government is required to respond to the SCA proposal within one year – a deadline that falls before the start of its triennial review into the stakes and prizes of games machines.

Speaking to TotallyGaming.com about the petition, a Newham Council spokesperson said that in addition to reducing stakes, the group is hoping that the government will hand councils more power to determine the number of betting shops in their local area.

“Many local authorities have seen a rise in the number of betting shops clustering on their high streets, maximising their profits on these FOBTs,” the spokesperson told TotallyGaming.com.

“Licensing regulations restrict the number of machines per shop to four and we believe this is the reasoning behind the increase of outlets.

“The maximum stake on these FOBTs is £100 in the UK. This is far higher than the maximum stake of £2 on similar machines that can be found in arcades, bingo halls and members’ clubs. 93 councils from across the country have come together to call on the government to bring these FOBTs in line with other terminals that are available on the high street.

“As well as asking for the stakes to be reduced, part of our submission also outlined the need for local authorities to be given more licensing powers so that they can determine if there is a need for additional betting shops in the local area.

“We want to be able to secure our high streets for retail outlets that help to boost the local economy and provide jobs for residents. By having the maximum stakes on B2 machines reduced from £100 to £2, Newham Council expects there will be a reversal in the number of betting shops on the nation’s high streets.”

The move marks the latest in a long line of campaigns that have been launched in an effort to curb the use of FOBTs, which have been braded as the “crack cocaine” of gambling by various media outlets. The machines have been widely criticised for their addictive nature and for the fact they allow consumers to spend large amount of money in short periods.

Despite a number of campaigns having been launched to curb the growth of FOBTs, little has been done in response to these efforts. The UK Coalition Government in January rejected a motion for local councils to be given more power to limit the number of FOBTs in their local constituencies.

However, the Association of British Bookmakers in February unveiled a new code of conduct that would enable gamblers to set limits on the amount of time and money they spend on the machines. Under this approach, mandatory alerts appear on screens, in-play breaks have been introduced and shop staff are being trained to help identify problem gamblers.

Despite this approach, FOBTs have still drawn criticism from both campaign groups and members of parliament. John Leech MP, culture spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, urged the government to take more action over the machines.

His comments came shortly after the Campaign for Fairer Gambling criticised the government’s ongoing research into FOBTs. The campaign group said the research, which is due to be published next month, will not be definitive.

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