Council organisation calls for heavier FOBT regulation

By David Cook
The debate on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) has surfaced once again, with the Local Government Association (LGA) asking for maximum stakes that can be placed on the machines in betting shops to be reduced from £100 to £2.

The LGA, a cross-party organisation that works on behalf of councils, wants an immediate government review into FOBT maximum stakes and also wants to see casino FOBTs limited to a maximum £5 stake.

Its views on curbing the maximum stake in betting shops to £2 echo the message of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

It was ruled by the UK government in July that the maximum stake would not be reduced, but new regulations came into force in April last year, requiring those wishing to stake over £50 on a B2 machine to place cash into a machine while being supervised by staff or to use account-based play.

The LGA also wants to see cumulative impact tests to allow councils to reject applications for new betting shops in areas where there are already a high number of shops and for new licensing laws to allow health and anti-social behaviour issues associated with problem gambling to be taken into account when applications are considered.

Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: "Councils up and down the country are worried about the number of high stakes FOBTs and betting shops on our high streets, and are frustrated by the lack of powers they have to curb them.

“Someone playing on a machine can lose £100 in a matter of seconds in a single play on an FOBT. This is money many people can't afford to lose and needs to be looked at again.”

Betting shop trade association the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) said: “Betting shops are the safest place to gamble, and we work closely with local councils all across the country, and with the Local Government Association itself, on a variety of issues and community initiatives.

"The Government made a decision last July to leave stakes and prizes on gaming machines as they are, noting that local authorities already have sufficient powers, via the licensing process, to manage the presence of betting shops on the high street."

Data published by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) shows that as of March 2015, there were an average number of 34,552 off-course B2 machines in the UK, which generated gross gaming yield of £1.66bn.

In separate research, UKGC revealed that 0.5% of British gamblers are deemed problem gamblers, covering the 2015 period, which virtually flat-lined with the previous two years.

Betting shops, of which there were 8,819 as of March 2015, can offer up to four gaming machines and the maximum prize that can be won is £500.

A parliamentary debate on the issue will be held in Westminster later today (Tuesday), with the speakers listed as ABB CEO Malcolm George, Andrew Lyman, director of group regulatory affairs for William Hill, and Scotbet chairman John Heaton.

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