Bookies braced for devastating FOBT verdict

Bookies braced for devastating FOBT verdict

Monday, May 14, 2018 Posted by Joseph Streeter
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It's now seemingly inevitable that stakes will be cut to £2

With a final decision seemingly imminent on FOBT stake levels this week, the bookmaking sector is bracing itself for what could well prove to be the most damaging change in legislation to hit the gaming sector in decades. A cut in maximum stake to £2 would, says the sector, lead to mass shop closures on the high street and wipe out circa 20,000 jobs from the industry.

To put the situation into clear context, a leaked email circulated by Betfred to its employees urged them to contact their local MPs in order to warn them of the unintended consequences that such a significant stake cut will have on the business and livelihoods. In the communication, MD Mark Stebbings wrote: “This would have a significant impact on the viability of the number of our shops and therefore employment in our businesses – it is not too late to warn your MP of the unintended consequences of such a drastic cut.”

Such measures are not new. Mobilising industry workers to personally lobby their local MPs is a favoured method of trade associations and has been deployed by the coin-op sector several times on issues, inter alia, such as machine controls at seaside arcades. What it does highlight, however, is that with ministers apparently intent on a £2 stake, the situation has fast become critical for the bookmakers.

One key factor that policy makers may have overlooked, or failed to grasp, is that a new £2 stake could pose more problems than those that are already perceived to exist. The point was made succinctly by Malcolm George, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers recently when he said: "A £2 stake on a FOBT doesn't bring the machine into line with other gaming machines on the High Street. What it means is that the most you could bet would be £6 per minute on a FOBT, but you could bet four times as much per minute on a pub fruit machine (£24) or eight times as much on an arcade machine (£48). A £2 stake limit means customers will simply go to other venues with fewer controls and move online.”

While the industry continues to brace itself for the worst, there is no guarantee that a decision will come this week. It’s alleged that pensions secretary Esther McVey has spoken out against the introduction of a £2 stake and has called for a delay in proceedings. Whether that will steer policy makers towards a rethink on the measure or merely represent a stay of execution remains to be seen.

Totally Gaming says: Despite all the heat and hyperbole, the reality of the situation surrounding FOBTs comes down to pure arithmetic, as outlined by Malcolm George above. But his effortlessly simple evaluation appears to have been overlooked. As a result, the FOBT risks being made a scapegoat for all of gambling’s ills. In this instance, one could be forgiven for thinking that the policy makers turned to Leviticus and the Old Testament for a solution when, instead, they could have used a calculator!

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