Gambling Commission recommend maximum FOBT stake of £30

Today’s announcement of the Gambling Commission’s recommendation to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – viz. that the maximum FOBT stake for roulette should be set “at or below £30” – has disappointed some, and angered others who have been campaigning against these machines in betting shops in the UK.

The Guardian newspaper reports the Commission’s recommendation as a ‘failure’.

Gambling Watch UK castigates the Gambling commission for failing to apply its own ‘precautionary principle’.

Tom Watson (the Labour deputy leader and a prominent opponent of FOBTs) has said: “This is a deeply disappointing report from the Gambling Commission, which appears to have caved in to industry pressure.”

But not everyone is unhappy at the announcement: shares in William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral rose around 4% after the news.

Other measures

The £30 FOBT stake limit comes amongst a raft of other recommended measures, which include –

  • A maximum FOBT stake of £2 for slot-games (i.e. not the virtual roulette game that is at the heart of the FOBT controversy).
  • Banning the facility for machines to allow different categories of games to be played in a single session.
  • Making tracked play mandatory across machines categories (B1,B2,B3).
  • Working with the industry and others on steps to make limit-setting more effective.

Neil McArthur, the Gambling Commission’s chief executive, has said: “In our judgment, a stake cut for fixed odds betting terminals alone doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable people. That is why we have recommended a stake cut plus a comprehensive package of other measures to protect consumers.”

Future uncertain

Neil Wilson of ETX Capital has said: “This should be a relief for the sector as the worst-case scenario [a £2 maximum FOBT stake] looks to have been avoided. Ministers will now have to justify a cut below £30 on grounds of significant risk of harm.”

But his optimism may be short-sighted. It is for the Government to consider the advice from the Commission and decide whether to implement all or any of its recommendations – and the early signs are of a sustained campaign to hit the industry much harder than the Commission has.

Tom Watson continued: “Ministers must not use this report as a cover to maintain the status quo. These machines are the heart of the UK’s hidden epidemic of problem gambling. The government must cut the stake to £2 on all FOBT machines, including the highly addictive roulette style games.”

Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP and chair of an all-party parliamentary group investigating FOBTs, has said: “It is disappointing. However, I am confident that the government will see past this and do the right thing, as the moral argument has been made so overwhelmingly for £2.”

The battle of the maximum FOBT stake is far from over.

Gerald Gouriet QC

The Gambling Commission’s recommendations in full can be found here:

MAY 17:  Government announce maximum FOBT stake to be reduced  to £2: comment