Jim Armitage: So much for the Government’s clampdown on betting machines - the bookies are winners again

Outlook: The Government never really looked seriously concerned about the social problems of fixed-odds betting terminals

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The Independent Online

As every responsible father tells his son: the bookie always wins. Particularly when it comes to lobbying the Government against any legislation that may hurt their businesses. So it was with the widely leaked “reforms” of gambling released yesterday.

Where critics of the lose-£100-every-20-seconds betting machines had demanded that jackpots and stakes be reduced, the Government instead merely said the pace of the action should be slowed a little. How? By making players inform staff every time they intend to bet more than £50.

Will this have any impact at all on either the profits of the betting shops who run most of these things or the social harm that local MPs and pressure groups say they cause? Hardly. Punters, many of them with serious gambling problems, will still be able to stake those £100 bets; it’s just that they’ll have to nip up to the desk to pay over the counter rather than sticking their notes directly in the slot.

What I predict is this: first, staff in betting shops – many of whom are women alone late at night in shops habituated by desperate men losing money – will face even more aggro.

Second, these predominantly low-wage workers will be implicitly encouraged not to stop the gamblers pouring their wages into their shops’ takings. As William Hill helpfully pointed out in its last-minute lobbying last week, the hundreds of people it is sacking as a result of increased taxes on these machines in the Budget are mostly young folks who will struggle to get work elsewhere. Faced with such a bleak employment prognosis, those still employed are hardly likely to don vicar’s garb and tell their customers to put away their wallets.

The trade body for the industry grimly said that thousands of jobs were now at risk. Nonsense. If anything, betting shops may have to re-employ staff they sacked as they rolled out the automated casino machines. Not that people will flock back to over-the-counter betting on the horses, but extra workers will now be needed to authorise and take the cash from the big rollers on the betting machines.

The Government has been pretty clever, I’d say. It never really looked seriously concerned about the social problems of fixed-odds betting terminals, but it has managed to squeeze more tax out of the problem and win a few pre-election headlines about how it is “clamping down”.

The best way to judge the likely outcome of an event, be it a race, a match, or a general election for that matter, is in the price the bookies are offering in advance. In the City, the bookies are called stockbrokers, their odds the share prices. What were they quoting on the gambling giants last night? William Hill: up 5 per cent, Ladbrokes (the most reliant on these machines): up 7 per cent. Some clampdown.

When big business rejected barbarism

 It is a perverse and macabre turn of events that sees a man die a slow and excruciating death as the result of the well-meaning efforts of others. That was the fate of Clayton Lockett, whose botched execution in Oklahoma this week was the indirect result of European pharmaceuticals firms refusing to supply their wares to end, rather than preserve life.

Britain’s Hikma Pharmaceuticals was last in a line of companies horrified to learn that its barbiturates were being used at the gurney, curbing their sale to Arkansas last year.

The short-term outcome of the barely reported blockade by European companies has been for US prisons to turn to back-street pharmacies for their poisons, with catastrophic effects. But they are surely outweighed by the value of the message these Western businesses are sending America: you are alone among civilised nations in this barbarism.