FOBT: A new £2 cap from May 4th?

The government is expected to make an announcement to place a £2 cap on fixed-odds betting terminal stakes either on or soon after May 4th.

No official announcement can be made until after the local council elections on May 3rd, due to election purdah rules, but reports in The Times and elsewhere suggest that an agreement may have already been reached.

Fixed-odds betting terminals, or FOBTs, have been criticised because they allow players to stake large amounts – up to £100 per play – on very fast games, for example virtual roulette wheels where each spin can take as little as twenty seconds.

A £2 stake cap per game would represent a compromise that would restrict the total potential losses for compulsive gamblers.

The Times report suggests that this compromise has already been reached between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), responsible for the gambling sector, and HM Treasury who are keen not to lose the substantial gambling duty income from FOBTs.

Sources close to Chancellor Philip Hammond told the newspaper that he has “accepted expert recommendations” that a stake cap is the right way to go, but that the move could see DCMS raise other areas of gambling duty so the Treasury does not lose out overall.

Are stake caps on FOBTs a good thing?

Neither the Chancellor nor DCMS secretary of state Matt Hancock responded to the rumours on their Twitter accounts, but Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes and chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, had previously expressed her objection to allowing high-stakes FOBTs to continue.

On April 23rd, just 13 hours before The Times published their article, she tweeted: “I will not be supporting any moves that allow high stakes #FOBT to continue to destroy lives. The Treasury needs to look at the long-term financial & personal cost of the catastrophic harms to individuals, families & society.”

And a report commissioned by bacta, the UK amusements sector trade association, suggested that the losses in HM Treasury receipts could be much less than the government’s own forecasts.

The analysis was carried out by Cebr, the Centre for Economics and Business Research, and placed the reduction in Gross Gambling Yield at £335 million, compared to the government’s £639 million forecast.

John White, CEO of bacta, said: “While there will be some cost to bookmakers from lower FOBT stakes, it is a necessary one to protect consumers from the everyday risk of gambling harm on the high street.

“The £100 stake on FOBTs is a dangerous anomaly in gambling regulation that the government has rightly chosen to address. We urge reduction to a £2 stake. That brings these machines in to line with the rest of the market, and puts the needs of player protection first.”

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