A Welcome Break and a £500 loss on the FOBT?


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Outlook Did you think that his views on the BBC would be the only controversy that the new Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, would be engaged in, less than a week after his surprise appointment? Au contraire.

Mr Whittingdale, it appears, is a fan of fixed odds betting terminals. Or he has at least spoken in support of them. FOBTs are a fixture in betting shops up and down the country and have, until recently, provided a very big earnings stream for the industry.

They bleep and they rattle, and they can detract from the pleasure of watching the racing at the local Ladbrokes. Particularly if the shop doesn’t benefit from modern design.

They have also been described as the “crack cocaine” of gambling, because of their ability to extract large sums of cash from players in a short spell of time. It is because of this that it has been argued that they are highly addictive. No more so than fruit machines, the betting industry claims, not without justification. But that doesn’t change the fact that they can be problematic. 

It was as a result of the fuss around them that new restrictions were introduced by the old Coalition government. And new tax. That goes without saying in austerity Britain.

But it has since emerged that Mr Whittingdale has previously supported calls for allowing more of them, and not only in betting shops but in bingo halls and other gaming venues. Even, maybe, those in motorway service stations. Stuck in traffic? Stop at your local Welcome Break for a Starbucks and a £500-hole in your pocket!

How about that for an advertising slogan? Perhaps someone should use that in a future party political broadcast.

But wait, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport says there has been no policy change with regard to the issue. Well, yes. Mr Whittingdale has barely got his feet under the desk.

Apparently the betting industry lost close to £10m on the general election after a late surge in support for the Tories. Could Mr Whittingdale win it back for them? He might yet prove to be their biggest winner of the campaign. No wonder the shares were ticking up. It’s not just the banks that have grounds for optimism about the result.