UK MP warns bookmakers

Former culture secretary John Whittingdale said that bookmakers should be ready for significant changes.

UK.- MP John Whittingdale said during the annual meeting of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) that betting shop operators should be alerted because the latest review on gaming machines from the government could lead to significant changes.

The UK government is focused on controlling the operation of FOBTs, as the Gambling Commission published evidence that they could be harmful for players. The gaming activity has faced Parliamentary inquiry and could be limited by new laws, which would establish lower minimum bets. In 2015 the UK Gambling Commission and the Irish government promoted a new regulation on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to limit the wager stakes. The legislation called “£50 Journey” established that amount as the maximum stake per spin a player can bet before being controlled by operators. Those players who want to make higher bets are obligated to pay over the counter or allow operators to monitor their games through a special account. However, an assessment issued on February by GambleAware, Ireland’s national organisation on responsible gaming, proved that the measure is not achieving the expected results.

According to Racing Post, the former culture secretary said: “Given all of that I would have to say I do think there will be proposals for significant change. I can’t say I would be surprised if there are quite radical measures produced when we come to it and I think you should brace yourself.” Despite the fact that the MP doesn’t really have official information anymore, he said that the current culture minister Tracey Couch will likely change the rules since she doesn’t really like FOBTs. Nevertheless, he believes that there’s a good future for the industry since half the population likes to bet, and that a tighter control on FOBTs would not change a thing.

“Does it simply seek to shift the issue of problem gambling or work with the industry to solve it?” he asked, and said that if that’s what the government wants, then a stake cut is the right route. “A stake cut will drive problem gamblers into other forms of gambling – in casinos or amusement arcades, or worse the illegal gambling sector with all the attendant links to money laundering and illegal money lenders.”

According to Malcolm George, ABB chief executive, a cut in stakes will significantly damage the horse and greyhound racing industries. He said that the research that they conducted suggested that a £2 stake could result in over £290 million being lost from horseracing by 2020 if implemented. Furthermore, a cut would modify the cost in revenues for government of £1 billion by 2020 and the loss of half the betting shop estate along with 21,000 jobs. “The ABB stands ready to engage with all interested parties in government and the broader stakeholders in our industry. The next few months will be critical, not just for betting shops, our shop colleagues and customers, but also for horse and greyhound racing and the whole eco-system that exists around shops. With our members’ support, I believe we can secure the future of betting shops for many years to come,” he concluded.