Slashed stakes on FOBTs are good news for gamblers

Gaming machines should be about fun first and foremost – and in many cases they are, such as pool tables and juke boxes, where there’s no expectation of a cash prize, and quiz machines where the stakes are fairly low.

Even fruit machines offer regular smaller payouts and a realistic chance of hitting the jackpot or close to it, if you’re familiar with the features.

So fixed-odds betting terminals, which allow stakes as high as £100 per turn on games like roulette that could last less than a minute, have always stood out as being on the unethical side of profit-making.

Now those maximum stakes are set to be slashed to just £2, bringing FOBTs much more in line with the entertainment aspect of the industry, rather than luring compulsive gamblers in with fast-paced high-stakes betting.

Lower stakes will need to be approved by Parliament through secondary legislation, and the DCMS has also promised to give the gambling industry time to implement the changes.

But the impact has already started to be seen in the half-year financial results posted recently by William Hill, which has already begun to restructure its retail business in anticipation of the lower stakes, and posted a loss of £820 million in the first six months of 2018.

Without the restructuring costs associated with the reduction in FOBT stakes, the firm’s financial performance would have been around £96 million of profit – a difference of almost a billion pounds for the half-year.

 Is this good or bad for gamblers?

A loss of £1 billion of profits is clearly not good news for William Hill or its investors, and is also bad news for the employees of any of its betting shops that are forced to close as the company continues its retail restructuring.

But it is indicative of how exploitative these machines have been in recent years, with the total number of betting shops bloated by opening new premises just doors away from each other to get around the limits on how many FOBTs each bookies could have on-site.

While some of those saved stakes will undoubtedly go on other games, whether on £2 B3 fruit machines in the bookies shops, or on sports betting, it’s still a massive billion pound saving made upfront.

It’s also good news for problem gamblers. While the bookmakers have a duty to spot anyone who appears to be playing compulsively, it’s hard to know how much anyone has in their pocket, or in their bank.

By keeping gaming machines at stakes that are less likely to create financial problems in a matter of minutes, this means everyone should be more able to enjoy the fun and entertainment they create.

Whether that means playing a fruit machine, challenging your mates over a pub pool table, or pooling your knowledge at the quiz machine, when playing is fun, everyone’s a winner.

A word on FOBTs from our director, Chris…..

I view with interest the announcement today that the government has launched a 12 week consultation to “ensure stronger protections around online gambling”, alongside a package of measures intended to promote responsible gambling, including reducing the maximum stake of FOBTs from £100 to between £50 and £2. Though I think that we are all impatient for the government to make a move on this, I understand that there are procedural hoops to jumps through. I am however, a little alarmed that a £50 stake might still be on the table. I wonder if the government needs reminding of a few points.

The primary purpose of a betting shop is….BETTING.  A while back betting companies saw a legal loophole in this and they created a machine that allows punters to “bet” upon the outcome of the spin of a virtual wheel. You can spin this however the hell you like, but this is GAMING.

This proves incredibly profitable to the bookies, and FOBTs spread around the county with all the vigour of Japanese Knotweed. Our government then cracked down on them by only allowing 4 FOBTs per site. So, the bookies open more branches. Local authorities are powerless to stop them as, amazingly, betting shops fall under the same planning rules as financial institutions. All the bookies need to do is take over any recently closed bank branches, Lord knows there were plenty of them, particularly in deprived areas.

Then, today on BBC Breakfast, a representative for the bookmakers, cautions us that reducing the maximum stake from £100 to £2 will result in the closure of a great many betting shops causing the loss of thousands of jobs. Well, as you can clearly see, these betting shops shouldn’t exist in the first place, and, their very existence has already caused the loss of a great many jobs in AGCs, bingo halls and FECs up and down the country.

I call upon the government to stand up to the insidious bookmakers, do the right thing and make the maximum stake £2.

Sign this important petition TODAY

Control gambling addiction

For those of you who aren’t aware FOBTs are fixed odds betting terminals and they can be found on any high street throughout the UK – by letting people feed hundreds of pounds into these machines in a matter of minutes they are wreaking havoc on people’s lives.   The type of machine we’re referring to are the virtual roulette machines found in high street betting shops.

It’s time for the government to listen to the calls for change from MPs, gambling addiction charities, people within the industry itself and the general public.

We urge anyone who feels the same way to get behind a petition set up by online lobbyists 38 Degrees – see text below:

Addictive gambling machines that let you bet £100 every twenty seconds are plunging people into life-changing debt. We could be just days away from the government doing something about it – but their decision is in the balance.

Theresa May is considering banning dangerous £100 bets to stop these machines sucking up people’s life savings. But she’s hearing arguments from both sides, and gambling lobbyists are piling on the pressure. Unless she knows where the public stands, she could lose her nerve.

She’ll make her decision in the next few days. If the PM knows hundreds of thousands of us have signed a petition calling for her to crack down on addictive machines, it could be enough to sway her. The petition will be delivered straight to her door as she’s making her decision.

Will you join me and sign the petition?


Brexit and the general election are no longer credible excuses for government to ignore gambling machine issues

With Brexit negotiations due to commence in just a few days’ time, households and businesses alike remain in the dark as to the true extent of any potential fallout – with the pub trade very much in that boat.

Until we know more, what does the future hold for publicans?

In the 2017 Spring Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that all alcohol duty rates would rise with retail prices index (RPI) inflation.  The price of a pint of beer would increase by 2p, while a bottle of wine would rise by 10p; the BBPA had alleged that putting the price of beer up by 2p would result in “4,000 job losses and more pub closures”.

Given that the Tories won the national vote, just, these rates will be in place at least until the next Budget.

It has previously been argued that community pubs cannot simply rely on beer sales to make a living; so looking at additional streams of revenue through fruit machine or gaming machine hire becomes more of a necessary option for landlords.

However, there is a whole raft of potential issues that surface with this change in tide. For starters, such a move endorses – or certainly appears to encourage – gambling, which has a wider negative social impact.

The limit per spin is currently £100 but industry insiders, including us, are lobbying to make this just £2.

The government has intervened to a degree, limiting betting shops to just four machines each but as a consequence there has simply been more and more betting shops springing up and gambling of this nature costs the state around £1.6 billion; whether that be in aftercare, court cases or jail sentencing.

In addition, Tory MPs Tracey Crouch and Karen Bradley have researched that 1% of the population, approximately 600,000 people, are affected by such machines with the issue escalating in town centres.

A proposed 2016 review has continually been postponed due to Brexit and, more recently, the general election but the silver lining to this all is that with Mrs May remaining at Number 10, the review should still be on table – and not merely thrown away.

Tom Watson calls for top stake of £2 on FOBTs

Labour MP Tom Watson has launched a petition calling for a £2 maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), a controversial category of gaming machines that have been linked with large losses over a short period of time.

FOBTs – officially classified as B2 gaming machines – are typically seen in bookmakers’ shops and currently have a top stake of £100 per play, with the result of each game known within a matter of seconds.

At around 20 seconds for one complete play cycle, they leave the player at risk of losing up to £300 in the space of a minute – and potentially much more over the course of a complete session.

Many gamblers are becoming addicted to B2 gaming machines, partly due to the thrill of playing for such high stakes, and in some cases in an attempt to claw back substantial losses.

The stakes are high in the most literal sense – and while only a small number of FOBTs are allowed in each betting shop, the large bookmakers’ chains have been accused of simply opening a new shop ‘around the corner’ in order to install even more FOBTs in a small area.

All of this adds up to a situation in which players are no longer participating for fun and entertainment, as with the vast majority of pub fruit machines, and this is when gambling becomes a concern.

Mr Watson’s petition was launched on October 24th and gained almost 500 signatures in its first two weeks.

He said: “If Theresa May is serious about breaking with the Tory tradition of putting profits before people, the government must reduce the maximum stake on these addictive machines from £100 to £2.”

The petition coincides with the upcoming review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures, which includes a specific remit to focus on the impact of B2 gaming machines, and which is currently the subject of a Parliamentary call for evidence.