Bookmakers are bracing for restrictions on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and a new requirement to fund a problem gambling awareness campaign, as part of a government review to be published early this week.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is preparing to publish a narrow range of options for reducing the maximum stake on FOBTs, which allow gamblers to place bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds.
The review is expected to propose three options other than £100, according to Whitehall sources who said Theresa May was personally against maintaining the status quo.
Options are expected to include a cut to £2, supported by the Labour party and campaigners who say FOBTs are linked to problem gambling, a reduction to £50 – likely to be celebrated by bookmakers – or another option between £10 and £30. Publication of the review will be followed by a 12-week consultation that will determine DCMS’ ultimate decision.
Bookmakers, whose £1.8bn income from the machines last year accounted for more than half of their revenues, are expected to lobby heavily against their nightmare scenario, a cut to £2. The Association of British Bookmakers has said this would cost 20,000 jobs and would slash the Treasury’s income from machine gaming duty, worth more than £700m last year.
But bookmakers are understood to have accepted that the days of the £100 maximum stake are over and have privately ruled out challenging any government decision via judicial review, after taking legal advice on their odds of succeeding. “You’ve got to virtually prove that the secretary of state was insane at time of making the decision,” said one senior industry source, who added that he had given up hope of stakes staying at £100.
The review is also expected to include a plan in which gambling companies – and broadcasters who benefit from their adverts – fund a public awareness campaign about problem gambling.
Earlier this year, the Guardian revealed that TV and betting firms had proposed the measure in the hope of staving off restrictions on gambling adverts linked to live sporting events, prompting a warning of a “stitch-up” from Labour deputy leader Tom Watson MP.
Bookies have also been criticised by leading charity GambleAware for failing to train staff to spot problem gambling and not displaying anti-addiction messages prominently enough. One well-placed industry source said he believed that the review could also recommend tighter restrictions on children’s access to seaside amusement arcade machines. This could even affect the “penny pusher” coin games, amid concern that they normalise gambling at an early age.
Such a measure would head off potential allegations from bookmakers that they are being unfairly punished, particularly in the light of amusement arcade body Bacta’s involvement in the campaign to cut FOBT stakes.
DCMS is expected to publish the review on Tuesday, after the stock market has opened, owing to the potential impact of its findings on gambling companies’ share prices. It was originally due to be released in June but was delayed when the prime minister called a surprise general election.