UK Finance Minister Philip Hammond claims he has stopped a review of high-stakes gambling terminals, on concerns that the country cannot afford to lose vital revenue should lawmakers greatly reduce maximum allowable wagers as proposed.
Hammond told the Daily Mail on Friday that such a change would be “financially crippling.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) initiated a review of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in October to research the social harm they might be inflicting on citizens. Hammond’s treasury department opposed the study, warning that the government relies on taxes these machines generate.
FOBTs allow gamblers to wager £100 (30) every 20 seconds. The DCMS was reportedly going to recommend that maximum be lowered drastically to just £2 ($2.60).
“It is morally bankrupt to allow this situation to go on,” Parliament member Carolyn Harris said recently. “Britain will be financially better off if we take action on these machines.”
Betting houses say the high-stakes FBOTs account for more than half of their bottom lines. UK gamblers lost over $2.2 billion in 2015 playing the machines.
DCMS Minister Tracey Crouch took a page out of US President Donald Trump’s playbook and called the Daily Mail report “fake news.” Crouch said the investigation is still ongoing, and its findings will be published in a report later this year.
“It is important that gambling regulations strike the right balance between allowing the industry to contribute to the economy and enable people to bet responsibly while ensuring consumers and communities are protected,” Crouch explained during the project’s announcement.
She said the probe is to protect children and those vulnerable to problem gambling.
Efforts to reduce maximum wagers on gambling machines has been endorsed by BACTA, the British Amusement Catering Trade Association. The labor group opined in April that high-stake wagering has no place in main street betting houses.
“FOBTs are hardcore gambling machines, wholly unsuitable for high-street venues, and expose everyday punters to the risk of gambling harm,” BACTA CEO John White stated. “We are calling on government to order a substantial reduction to the dangerously high £100 stake limit, which the bookmaking industry can and should learn to live without.”
The gambling industry, led by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), has threatened that many betting shops would be forced to close should the threshold be reduced. The ABB said as many as 2,500 locations might shutter nationally should the £100 (30) limit be cut to £20 ($26), and 800 additional venues would be in jeopardy at a £10 (3) limit.
The ABB also pointed to a recent study from the UK Gambling Commission that found no evidence to suggest FOBTs in betting shops and arcades lead to an increase in problem gambling.