New rules on 'crack cocaine betting machines' will cost 20,000 jobs, bookmakers claim

MPs say secretive research should be published and argue that problem gambling cost the country £1.2bn per year

Ben Chapman
Monday 27 February 2017 14:20 GMT
Following a review, MPs last month said there was a clear case to reduce the maximum amount staked amount to £2 per spin
Following a review, MPs last month said there was a clear case to reduce the maximum amount staked amount to £2 per spin

MPs have fought back against secretive gambling industry-funded research that claims that half of the nation’s bookmakers will close, causing 20,000 job losses if new rules on responsible gambling are introduced.

Controversial fixed odds betting terminals,or FOBTs, dubbed "the crack cocaine of gambling" by campaigners because of their high addictive potential, allow punters to wager £100 every 20 seconds. Following a review, MPs last month said there was a clear case to reduce the maximum staked amount to £2 per spin to tackle the scourge of problem gambling.

The gambling industry declined to take part in that review but has instead funded a report by KPMG which it has chosen not to publish. The research, seen by the Times, reportedly claims that the proposals would threaten half of the nation’s bookmakers shops with closure and put 20,000 jobs at risk.

The research also claims there would be a knock-on effect on the racing industry, which would miss out £100m from bookmakers in racing levy contributions and media rights, the newspaper reported.

It says that the £2 maximum stake would bring in £1bn per year less for the Treasury by 2020. The prediction is based on data from two thirds of Britain’s 8,700 betting shops.

A spokesman for Ladbrokes said a cut in stakes to £2 would “decimate the industry”.

Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on told The Independent: “The publicly available research from Landman Economics shows that £1bn spent on FOBTs supports 16,500 fewer UK jobs than when that money is spent on other consumer activities.

“If the bookies want MPs who will be making decisions on FOBTs to consider the research the betting industry has funded, I recommend that they share it with us," she said.

“FOBTs are causing extremely high levels of gambling harm in communities across the country; the Government should respond to the widespread campaign for a substantial stake reduction backed by hundreds of MPs, local authorities and now the Church of England Synod, by taking definitive action in the forthcoming Review of Stakes and Prizes.”

FOBTs currently account for around half of all bookmakers’ profits in the UK, according to the MPs report, and the industry has been lobbying hard to protect them from stricter regulation.

Limits on the number of FOBTs per shop as well as a requirement for gamblers to register with bookmakers in order to stake over £50 have so far failed to reduce problem gambling.

The NHS estimates there are around 600,000 problem gamblers in the UK and gambling problem charity GamCare says the number of people it treats increased by 24 per cent to 6,832 in 2016 with betting machines in bookmakers’ shops the most commonly-cited problem.

A December report by leading charity GambleAware and the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that problem gambling cost the UK £1.2bn in 2016 through additional healthcare, welfare and criminal justice costs.

Ms Harris said: “I support a responsible gambling industry, but there is nothing responsible about how FOBTs are currently being operated. I urge the Government to take action now,” she said.

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