Local government leaders have said the Government’s decision to delay implementing a planned reduction in the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals is ‘extremely concerning.’
The Government agreed in May to reduce the maximum permitted stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2, acting on the recommendations of the Gambling Commission. This was expected to take place in April next year.
However, the Treasury announced as part of the Autumn Budget that the implementation date would be delayed until October 2019 in order to help the gambling industry adjust to the change.
The delay is also expected to boost the Treasury’s revenues by £1.15bn.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, criticised the decision.
‘Waiting more than a year for maximum stakes on fixed odds betting terminals to be reduced is too long and extremely concerning,’ he said.
‘We urge Government to move more quickly to keep its promise to cut maximum stakes from £100 to £2 which will help prevent vulnerable players from losing £100 in seconds in a single play, which many people cannot afford to lose.’
The LGA warned last July that the legislation might be delayed due to ‘unacceptable’ pressure from the betting shop industry. It is estimated that the lower stake will cost £1.15bn in reduced gaming duty over five years.
Cllr Blackburn said that the harm and anti-social behaviour FOBTs can cause has become an issue of ‘growing national concern’.
‘Research has shown that problem gambling, often linked to FOBTs, creates huge costs for the NHS, councils and the criminal justice system,’ he said.
‘The Government made the right decision to impose a £2 stake limit, but taking a year before implementing it only compounds the social and economic problems we know FOBTs cause.’
The junior minister for culture, media and sport, Tracey Crouch, has resigned her post in protest at the Treasury’s announcement.
‘From the time of the announcement to reduce stakes and its implementation over £1.6bn will be lost on these machines, a significant amount of which will be in our most deprived areas including my own constituency,’ she wrote in her resignation letter.
‘In addition, two people will tragically take their lives every day due to gambling related problems and for that reason as much as any other I believe this delay is unjustifiable.’