In the United Kingdom, the trade body for the nation’s bookmakers has reacted angrily to a new report on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) prepared by an official parliamentary body that has called for maximum stakes to be reduced to just £2 ($2.50) per spin.
The Association Of British Bookmakers warned that such a move would be a “hammer blow” to its industry and threaten thousands of jobs while declaring that the report from the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group was “deeply flawed” and had been funded by its commercial rivals.
“This is a deeply flawed report funded by vested interests [that] would directly benefit if its recommendations are ever implemented,” read a statement from Malcolm George, Chief Executive Officer for the Association Of British Bookmakers. “The report is the view of a tiny group of anti-betting shop Members Of Parliament.”
There are 34,809 touchscreen FOBTs in the United Kingdom spread across some 8,709 betting shops and the terminals allow punters to wager up to £100 ($124) per spin on electronic games of roulette, poker, blackjack and virtual racing. The report from the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group cited figures showing that the machines, which can award a maximum prize of £500 ($624), accounted for over half of the bookmaking industry’s profits in 2015 with gamblers losing £1.7 billion ($2.1 billion) as each terminal took in around £48,724 ($60,822).
In its criticism, the Association Of British Bookmakers also stated that the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group had received contributions worth up to £3,000 ($3,745) from anti-betting shop organizations including the British Amusement Catering Trades Association arcades representative and pub operator JD Wetherspoon while noting that its secretariat, public affairs firm Interel, carries out work on behalf of London’s The Hippodrome Casino and slots manufacturer Novomatic.
“This group has been financed by those with interests in the casino, arcade and pub industries,” read the statement from George. “We strongly believe that the Parliamentary Commissioner For Standards should urgently investigate this All-Party Parliamentary Group.”
Finally, the Association Of British Bookmakers criticized the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group for its lack of transparency despite an assertion from the body that it had given the trade organization ample opportunities to submit evidence.
“This group of Members Of Parliament has operated in secrecy, provided no transcripts of the evidence given to their meetings and operated throughout behind closed doors away from public scrutiny,” read the statement Malcolm George. “Britain’s bookmakers employ more than 43,000 staff and contribute over £1 billion ($1.2 billion) a year in taxes. But, betting shops are already closing at the rate of more than 100 a year and if the findings of this rigged report are implemented, it could spell the beginning of the end for the High Street bookmaker.”
In addition to decreasing stakes, the report from the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group called for a reduction in spin speeds in an effort to help prevent repetitive wagering and for the number of machines permitted in each betting shop to be cut from the current limit of four.
“There is now a clear case for the government to substantially reduce the maximum stake which can be played on FOBTs,” Carolyn Harris, chairperson for the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “These machines are easily accessed in the most deprived areas, sucking money out of the pockets of families. I support a responsible gambling industry but there is nothing responsible about how FOBTs are currently being operated.”
The BBC reported that the Parliamentary group’s report moreover slated the Gambling Commission as slow and urged the regulator to take an “active role” in helping to reduce problem gambling associated with FOBTs.
“[We] urge the Gambling Commission to take an active role in advising the government to fully regulate FOBTs and to look into accusations of any malpractice by bookmakers or gambling premises more widely,” read the report from the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Long-time anti-FOBTs campaigner Sir Robin Wales, who also serves as mayor for the east London borough of Newham, told the BBC that he supported the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group’s recommendations as a way to help stop the spread of gambling in some of the poorest parts of the country.
“The gambling industry has consistently ignored our pleas to stop blighting our high streets with the clustering of betting shops, which bring anti-social behavior and crime to the heart of our communities,” Wales told the BBC.