I have today signed my Labour colleague Carolyn Harris’s open letter to the Government, asking for the maximum stake to be reduced from the current £100 to £2.
Here is the letter in full:
Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP
Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport
100 Parliament St
23 January 2018
Dear Secretary of State,
Government Policy on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
On the day that the Government’s consultation on ‘Proposals to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures’ closes, we the undersigned are calling on the Government to take decisive action and reduce the stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to £2.
The case for a stake reduction to £2 is now overwhelming.
There are over 33,000 FOBTs in betting shops across the UK in easily accessible locations, providing hard, high stakes gambling across Britain’s high streets.
The current FOBT stake maximum of £100 is fifty times higher than that of other widely available gaming machines. In 2015/6, there were over 230,000 individual sessions in which a user lost over £1,000.
FOBTs have come under widespread criticism for encouraging high-stakes gambling and exposing people to the risk of gambling harm. Problem gambling affects 430,000 people in the UK annually. As well as this being a tragedy for gamblers themselves and their families, a recent report by the well-respected economics think tank, the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr), showed that problem gambling is also a huge cost to the Government. It estimates that this cost to the UK is £1.5bn a year when its impact on wider social welfare is taken into account – including areas such as employment, mental health and financial stability
This Government has stated its commitment to social justice. These machines are creating social injustice. They are having a direct impact on people and families across the country. They are harming the young and vulnerable in our society, whom we have a duty to protect. Those, who often can least afford it, are losing vast sums of money. Indeed, the Cebr notes that the main beneficiaries of a reduction to a £2 stake would be those from deprived areas or on lower incomes, particularly as there are twice as many betting shops in the poorest 55 boroughs of the UK.
Public and mental health organisations, faith groups including the Church of England (who has been very vocal in their concerns), academics and others have also described the destructive impact which FOBTs can have on families and whole communities. They have underlined that they are driving social and mental health problems. We have even seen young men taking their own lives because of their addiction to these machines. Beyond this, FOBTs are impacting society more widely driving violent crime and money laundering.
The Cebr also finds that the impact of a £2 stake reduction on bookmakers has been exaggerated. The economic impact on bookmakers of lower FOBT stakes could be significantly less than existing estimates have suggested since these do not take account of the range of possible outcomes and behavioural responses that could take place. Their model projects that industry losses from a £2 stake could be up to 47% lower than suggested by the Government’s initial impact assessment.
As you will know, it is rare in Parliament to achieve a consensus across our political divides. Yet, those calling for stake reduction come from across the political spectrum, in both Houses of Parliament. We speak as one. This call for stake reduction is coming from local government including 93 local authorities, esteemed academics, community groups, the Royal Society for Public Health, from business and the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for the stake to fall to £2. Even the bookmaker Paddy Power has agreed on the need for dramatic stake reduction citing that this will not adversely impact bookmakers’ businesses.
The Government must not waver in its commitment to help the vulnerable. It must not row back on its determination to take action on FOBTs. It must not bend to the power of the bookmaker lobby. The time has come for the Government to act. The health and wellbeing of our country is at issue. We implore the Government to seize this opportunity and make £2 the FOBT stake.
We look forward to your reply.
Carolyn Harris MP
Chair, Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group
We are copying this letter to the Prime Minister and Tracey Crouch MP.