Bookmakers sweating at possibility of fixed odds betting terminal stake cut

  • Most parties want to reduce maximum bets for FOBTs
  • Conservatives had no plans for changes, but DUP does

The upheaval of the UK General Election, which resulted in a hung parliament, could bring the debate about controversial Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) back to life.

Could Theresa May's potential coalition deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party spell a major stake reduction for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals?
Could Theresa May’s potential coalition deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party spell a major stake reduction for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals?

Political parties and lobbyists have been seeking a mandatory minimum of around £2 ($2.50) per bet on FOBTs, though the Conservative Party has no plans to change the £100 ($127) current maximum rate.

The machines have attracted huge political and media attention, due the ability for players to rack up large losses quickly. They have been dubbed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’.

With no overall majority, the Government is looking at a coalition with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – which also supports reduction of the maximum fixed rate wager.

DUP-Conservative alliance likely

With no single party gaining enough seats during the election, the UK faces what is known as a ‘hung parliament’. This means that the governing party requires backing from other groups in the House of Commons if they want to pass any new laws or make any changes. The Conservative party might be able to form a working government if they align with the DUP – but this means compromising on key areas, and rules on FOBTs might well be something the DUP will look to push.

Controversy over FOBT risk levels

The use of fixed odds betting terminals has seen significant growth in recent years. The betting machines are very popular and make billions per year for their operators – high street bookmakers.

Electronic roulette, poker and simulated horse racing are among the most in-demand game machines. Currently, the law allows bets of up to £100 per time to be placed by a player, but many political groups and lobbyists say this is harmful.

They argue that FOBTs encourage overspending and problem gambling, and they want the maximum bet amount to be vastly reduced. A rate of £2 per bet has been cited by parties including Labour and the Liberal Democrats – while the DUP opposes the terminals entirely.

The Telegraph reported an analyst from Barclays, a major bank, who stated that the chances of the cutting of the maximum stake will go up with a coalition government.

Operators lose out if lower minimum bets are introduced

However, bookmakers say that the loss of electronic gambling, which is popular among their clientele, could cost millions per year. The trade group, the Association of British Bookmakers, has also claimed that there is no evidence to link problem gambling with the use of FOBTs.

Barclays estimates a £439m loss for Ladbrokes and a further £288m cut in William Hill profits, if the rates do get cut to £2.

This risk of losses is already making an impact, with shares in both operators falling in the days after the election. While FOBT laws are not at the forefront of the prospective Government’s mind right now, there are strong opinions on both sides of the argument and it seems likely that the issue will come before Parliament during the next term.

A group of MPs looked at the issue earlier this year, recommending the maximum stake cut to £2. This has yet to go before parliament.

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